Lessons in Creation
Humbled, I realize the world doesn’t require my participation.
PHOTO BY LINNY MORRIS
The smell in the pantry was getting worse. Was it the paper bags I had stashed in there? Was it that organic pie crust? (Never trust a whole-wheat pastry.) All week, I’d pull out an item, give it a sniff, and dubiously place it back on the shelf, but, by Saturday, I knew I’d have to perform a more serious investigation. Emptying the entire contents of the cabinet, I discovered the cause of the mystery stink: a plastic gallon of water had leaked, dripping water onto a canvas shopping bag. Which was now fuzzy—no, I dare say fluffy, like a cozy, gray angora cardigan.
ILLUSTRATION BY ANDREW CATANZARITI
Who knew that a mild-mannered tote from Hawaii Public Radio could turn into such a science project? The bag was sprouting mold like it had been made of agar, with two petri dish handles and a sponsorship from Acme Penicillin. Aghast, I threw it out and bleach-bombed the pantry. I even lit a couple of candles to remove any moisture or ghosts of fungus past, giving the glowing pantry the appearance of a small shrine.
But as I peeled off my rubber gloves, my revulsion turned to respect and fascination.
It’s one thing to start a garden and watch things grow, to put a seed in the dirt and water it and tend to a young plant and stake it up so it will stand toward the sun. It’s another realm entirely when you realize that extremely teensy “not a plant, not quite an animal” little guys are just fine setting up shop without you. They didn’t need me, a superfluous stranger.
Maybe the microbes snuck into the pantry months ago, while I rooted around for a box of Wheat Thins. Maybe they blew in on a warm trade wind. However they got there, they lay dormant, their entire world consisting of one tote bag.
Tranquil darkness surrounds them. Tasty canvas lies beneath them. Above them, water starts to trickle, and ta-da! Life. Itself. (Cue Frankenstein voices here, if you wish.) They are propelled into action. They reproduce, toast their success and reproduce again. If I hadn’t foiled their plans with my bleach wipes, they might have conquered the whole kitchen and turned my husband and me into galley slaves.
A few weeks after the Great Mildew Incident of Aught Seven, I found a quotation from one of the Hawaiian creation chants, the Kumulipo, that “life begins in darkness.”
I wasn’t familiar with the chant, and looked it up—it’s beautiful. My favorite translation of it is on the Edith Kanakaole Foundation’s Web site. “Time was altered when the earth became hot. Time was altered when the sky turned inside out.”
Isn’t that gorgeous? The sky turned inside out. But back to creation. The chant continues: “Brightened only by the moon/ A time of Makalii (winter)/ The earth originated in slime/ With its origins in darkness.”
Just as in the pantry, life isn’t always lemon-scented. The chant tells us that “the time of Uliuli has a musty odor.”
The whole thing just gives me faith in the universe.
It may be winter, and the light may be dim. But life emerges from the darkness, whether or not we’re there to peer down at it. It arrives on its own timetable, with its own force. And, possibly, with a very funky smell.