Chapter 4: The Steward’s Lessons at La Vida Aureo
The following week, Rosalie Ribera drove Stuart to La Vida Aureo in mid-afternoon for his first speaking engagement which was described to the residents as an introductory talk about Nature. Taking Millicent’s advice to heart, Stuart kept his remarks relatively brief and general. Stuart spoke softly and without much of the passion Millicent had seen when she first heard him in Old Town. “It is important to remember that all of what we call Nature is really God’s creation, his handiwork. We must understand that when God gave Man the gift of dominion over all his creations, He did not intend for Man destroy things; His gift clearly included the responsibility of stewardship. I believe that Man has allowed his ego to get in the way and overstepped his authority by trying to control nature and make it do his bidding. In my travels, I have learned from many cultures that aligning with Nature is the path to understanding. It is the single unifying theme in many cultures. I have experienced many visions of how things can be and I appreciate this opportunity to share those experiences with you.”
Stuart’s initial visit to La Vida Aureo was a modest success. A small group of residents met in the dining room and Stuart talked about achieving a sense of peace and harmony with nature. He spoke only briefly in religious terms stating that nature was God’s creation and being in harmony with nature was simply away to respect and serve God. Most of the residents felt that his comments were beneficial and that it would be a good idea for him to speak again.
Millicent was sitting to the side where she was able to look at the audience and judge their reactions. Many of the residents were nodding in agreement with Stuart’s remarks, precisely the effect Millicent had hoped for. Millicent rose and led a brief round of applause. “If you all agree, I would like to invite Mr. Montgomery to come back again next week so that we may continue to learn about Nature. Perhaps, Mr. Montgomery could also tell us about his Environment First Movement at that time and what we could do to help.”
On the ride back to their camp, Stuart described his initial experience at La Vida Aureo to Rosalie in relatively positive terms. “They seemed to understand what I was saying and I think many of them agreed with my philosophy. I was a bit overwhelmed, though. There were more people than I’m used to and I’m not sure I can handle things if they want to ask question. Oh, and Mrs. Branch told me that I can talk specifically about our Cause at next week’s meeting and also ask for donations.”
“That’s good news, Steward. I knew you would do well. Would you like to have several of the girls of our Flock go with you on for your next lesson to handle some of the questions? They could also assist with the collections for you?”
“That would be most helpful, Rosalie. Since you know them much better than I, would you please choose three or four to accompany me?”
Stuart decided to call his series of speeches to the residents of La Vida Aureo “lessons” since he believed that his mission was one of education. For his second lesson, Stuart decided to focus on technology and its role. “I am not against progress, he began. Man must learn to think about the longer term effects and consequences of his actions.
We must use our technology to solve problems. For example, we have demonstrated that we can make cars that are much more fuel efficient. We’ve even developed affordable electric and hybrid models. But, we’ve reached a point where we must not become so enamored with our achievements that we lose sight of the potential longer-term effects. Suppose we were able to abolish gasoline altogether and only have electric automobiles. We cannot simply ignore the question of where all that electricity comes from to power these cars. Since we decreased our use of nuclear power, most of our electricity is generated by burning something, such as natural gas or coal. So, what we really have done, in effect, is substitute burning one hydrocarbon for another. Maybe our long-term technological focus should be on figuring out ways to drive less!”
“I’m sure you’ve noticed that several young women accompanied me here today. They are an important part of the Environment First Movement and are here to talk with you in more detail about these lessons. If you would like to break into smaller groups for a few minutes, these women will assist you with any questions and further discussion.”
This approach was well received by the residents in attendance, although Millicent had a few choice words for Stuart about why she wasn’t notified about this change in plans first. But, she was quick to observe the lively discussion occurring in the smaller groups and kept her comments to a minimum. There were more residents in attendance this time and Millicent was achieving her primary objective.
In the small groups, most of the questions were about Stuart himself rather than the context of his lesson. The girls had been well-schooled by Rosalie in advance and spoke in glowing terms about The Steward and all the great things he hoped to accomplish for the good of nature. Rosalie had also instructed that the girls exactly how and when to push for donations and this was also successful.
That evening, Rosalie gathered all the girls together to review their first trip to La Vida Aureo. “Oh, things went pretty well, offered Cassandra. Of course, most of those old biddies just wanted to talk about The Steward; I guess they are not used to seeing any men under the age of 70!”
“Yeah, but I think most of those old people are loaded, suggested Jane. When the woman I was sitting with opened her purse to make a donation, I noticed a huge wad of bills, just sitting there. And there was a bunch of jewelry there, too! She fumbled around trying to get a few dollars out to put in the hat and just stuffed the wad back into her purse.”
The other girls who had attended the meeting made similar comments and seemed eager to return.
Rosalie thanked all the girls for their comments and their hard work in this new situation. “This new opportunity that The Steward has arranged could be the best thing that has ever happened to our community and we can significantly increase the amount of money we raise for our environmental Cause. I want you all to join me in a little celebration that I call a Tea Ceremony. I’ve prepared this herbal tea using an old native recipe and invite you to each take a sip from this cup”
Rosalie dimmed the overhead light and passed the large cup around the gathered circle of girls and each one took a small sip. “Now, just sit back and clear your mind. I want each of you to imagine how much better things are going to be if each of you does your part to support The Steward and further our Cause.”
In a few minutes, the girls began to sway and rock back and forth. Their eyes became glazed and their faces took on a silly grin. “I can see beautiful colors”, said Jane. “Me too”, giggled Tessa. “I see flowers and trees,” said Sofia.” “I’m floating, said Janelle. Similar comments continued for the next thirty minute and the girls gradually regained their focus and looked at Rosalie in amazement and bewilderment.
“OK, has everyone returned to this room, asked Rosalie and are you ready to talk about your role at this retirement home with The Steward and how you can really help our Cause?” Like most things, it will only be a good as we make it. Your role will be to encourage these old folks to make sizeable contributions to our Cause. Since I suspect many of them will be reluctant, I wanted to introduce you to a little persuasion medicine.
“It was wonderful, exclaimed Jane. Can we do it again?”
“We can have our little Tea Ceremony as often as you like, but you each will have to do your part to earn this privilege. The Steward will continue to encourage the residents who attend his lectures to spend some time alone with one of you to discuss the day’s topic in greater detail. When you are alone, you will offer that person a cup of our Special Herbal Tea to relax them. Once they drift off a bit, you can search their room for cash, jewelry or anything else of value. By the time they come back around, you will simply tell them how much they have learned and how important they are to the Cause. Be sure to thank them and rinse out the cup and flush the tea leaves before you leave. Any questions?”
“Wow, Mama Rosa, this could be so much better than standing at an intersection and having people yell at me. I even had a guy spit on me last week.”
“You should never discuss our Tea Ceremony with anyone outside of this group, even The Steward. And, I need not tell you that you must be cautious in dealing with these old folks; some of them can be pretty squirrelly!”
Rosalie smiled to herself as she left the dormitory trailer. She knew that she had provided just enough incentive to the girls for them to do what was necessary. She knew she could count on competition among them to be chosen as The Steward’s Guide for a future vision quest to make the new venture at the retirement home very successful.
Over the next few weeks, Stuart’s lessons focused increasingly on examples of environmental damage and how Man had relied on technology to control nature rather than using it for the purpose of stewardship. He stressed the need for greater education to remind Man of this responsibility. He remained optimistic, but cautioned that there was a great deal of work to yet be done. He spoke with increasing passion and the smaller discussion groups became more frequent. The girls were able to successfully push for more contributions. They also suggested that one-on-one private discussions were available and a few residents accepted the invitation to hold these in their individual rooms. The residents who opted for these private meetings were given a large potted plant with beautiful white flowers which the girls called Angel’s Trumpets.
Eventually, the discussion got around to what Stuart referred to as The Environment First Cause and several residents asked how they could help. Stuart mentioned that his group was involved in several projects to stop environmental damage in and around New Mexico. He was somewhat vague, but warned that these projects must be stopped before God caused some much worse type of calamity. He encouraged the residents to donate to The Cause calling it “God’s Work”. He criticized groups like the Sierra Club for wasting so much time and money lobbying politicians in Washington instead of being on the front lines of environmental responsibility and action.
Stuart believed in education and relied on pamphlets to get his message out. He encouraged the residents to make peace with God and the environment. They should forsake their worldly possessions and provide support to the Cause.
Paloma Angostura overheard several of the residents discussing that morning’s lesson in the dining room late one afternoon. Their discussion eventually turned to the level of support that each was providing and the consensus was that they should be able to do more for this worthy cause. One woman said, “I am considering changing my will and designating a portion of my estate to be donated to the Environment First Movement.”
“Do you think that wise?” another asked.
“It is a good cause, she replied. One of the girls said she would help me make the arrangements so that the money was directed properly.”
“I agree that the Cause seems to make sense, but I think I’ll stay with providing cash or a check each week when they ask for donations.”
As the residents rose to leave the dining room, one woman stopped another and said, “I seem to have misplaced my diamond earrings; did I happen to leave them in your room? I thought I might have taken them off while we were playing cards.”
“No, I haven’t seen them. Are you sure you’re just not getting forgetful?”
“I might be. I seem to have also misplaced some cash that I keep in my room for emergencies.”
“It probably isn’t wise to leave cash lying around. You never know about these girls they hire to clean our rooms. You don’t need cash for emergencies in the first place.”
Paloma decided to mention these somewhat disturbing comments to Matthew Dudley the next time she saw him. She was concerned that perhaps this new found friend of Mrs. Branch’s was taking advantage of the residents. She did not think it was a coincidence that money and jewelry seemed to go missing each time this Steward fellow and his followers showed up.
In the individual sessions, the designated girl prepared a cup of tea for the resident. The dried tea was initially prepared by Rosalie using the leaves of the Angel’s Trumpet flowering plant. In very small does, it acted as a mild hallucinogen and was effective in having the resident experience a temporary form of rapture. With the resident in this state of mental confusion, the girl was able to move freely about the apartment or casita and steal any cash or valuables that were visible.
On one occasion, the resident, Mrs. Anderson, did not seem to be affected so the young girl, Cassandra, added a few more tea leaves to her cup. The resident began to experience more agitated behavior and became aggressive. In an attempt to protect herself and also gain control of the situation, Cassandra pushed the resident. She stumbled backward and hit her head against a coffee table and fell unconscious. Cassandra quickly left the casita and walked toward the waiting van in the Guest Parking lot. She climbed into the back of the van and Rosalie asked, “What happened? You are supposed to be inside with The Steward.”
“Some old lady passed out after she drank her tea and hit her head when she fell over. She was unconscious so I just left.”
“I suppose we’ll just have to be more careful with the tea with these old folks. Were you able to get anything from her?
“I got some cash and some jewelry, but didn’t have time to really search the place.”
The next morning, when the maid showed up with fresh linens, she noticed Mrs. Anderson lying on the floor. She quickly notified her Supervisor who called 911. The paramedics arrived and pronounced Mrs. Anderson dead. At the hospital, the young doctor on duty at the time stated that Mrs. Anderson had probably died of a heart attack. He dismissed the cut on her head as incidental to the heart attack and subsequent fall. When the hospital reviewed Mrs. Anderson’s medical records, the heart attack diagnosis seemed the most likely cause of death and the matter was closed.
The amount of cash stolen, jewelry, etc. stolen and delivered to Rosalie increased with each visit. Much of the jewelry and similar hard goods were either fenced or sold at the Albuquerque Flea Market. Rosalie kept Stuart completely in the dark about this aspect of things. When he questioned her about money (“Do we have enough for supplies, gas, etc.?”), she told him that she had arranged for a large donor for The Cause.