By Sofía Puerta Webber
Illustration by Olga Kolomydtseva
A Friendship Begins
When the Shiwido legend was first told to us, something strange was happening in the world. Humans were unable to hug each other, chocolate was scarce in the supermarkets, and rainbows were difficult to spot. Ardillananda, one of the main characters in this magical story, was feeling confused and uneasy. She was not sure about her future and this feeling of uncertainty made her a little anxious.
She knew she had a tendency to overthink things. She talked about it openly, and with a hint of humor. She said, “The fast movements of my tail reflect the rapid motion of my mind!” She was indeed a quick thinker, and frequently she thought out loud.
Perhaps you have seen different types of squirrels around gardens or parks. But Ardillananda’s bright orange fluffy fur and her extra long tail made her unique. She was just gorgeous!
She had a strong and muscular body, athletic limbs, sharp claws, and big eyes. She was a very skillful and fast climber and she liked to analyze things with a curious attention. Ardillananda liked music and considered herself an expert water taster.
Her name came from the Spanish word for squirrel (ardilla) and the Sanskrit word ananda, which means bliss or happiness. But, regardless of the meaning of her name, she had happy days and sad days, like we all have.
This beautiful orange creature had a very good appetite! Nuts, berries and hibiscus flowers were among the foods she loved best. She was very picky about places to spend the night, and preferred quality cozy beds made with fig leaves and soft twigs. It was very important for her to sleep well at night, at least eight hours. And she loved taking a nap after lunch.
Ardillananda had an important personal project. She was looking for a specific tree. But despite an intense search, trial and error, she hadn’t had any luck finding the tree of her dreams.
This blissful, furry, athletic and young creature had grown up near an artificial reservoir called Hollywood Lake, built in 1924. There is a hiking trail that loops around the lake, which has views of the famous Hollywood sign.
Ardillananda did not have any close relatives and she did not care about Hollywood’s famous people, some of whom lived nearby. She did chat almost every day with two crows named Fig and Chill, who were the local animal community’s designated news reporters.
These two brought Ardillananda the latest and most important news of the neighborhood. She liked to be informed about what was going on and appreciated what they did.
The crows were very proud. They said they knew everything, because they had the advantage of their aerial view, and the ability to move around the neighborhood faster and more freely than others. They also had access to other kinds of information and resources, since they were skilled scavengers of the trash cans at every house and temple in the Hollywood Hills. “Trash tells a lot about people,” Fig said solemnly.
The crows had known Ardillananda for many years. They respected her very much, and admired how independent she was, and accustomed to living by herself. They also admired the strict routine of her life around the reservoir — and they knew very well that she disliked being disturbed! This was especially true when she was asleep, or listening to music in the garden of the summer home of a British singer named Eric Clapton. Her favorite song was his, “Change the World”.
News stories are many, good news is better
It was summer when the crows came to Ardillananda’s feeding grounds with important news. “The new family has arrived in the neighborhood!” Chill announced.
Many animals had witnessed the construction of this family’s home, which had taken almost two years. They were excited to see the new residents of this marvelous dome house with its extra large swimming pool. The newcomers were called “The Laurens:” A busy father, a busy traveler mother and a very special 12-year-old daughter named Valeria.
The highlight of the crows’ news story was: “Valeria has a unique talent. The young lady is able to talk to animals, as easily as you can talk with your neighbors and your friends,” they reported.
Ardillananda was very curious about this, and her curiosity grew after the crows mentioned a conversation they’d had with Valeria about trees and birds in a place far away called the Amazon Rainforest.
It was a sunny Sunday in the middle of the summer when Ardillananda decided to get a closer look at this human girl who knew about trees, and would be able to talk with her about them.
After carefully arranging her fur, she crossed the reservoir to see with her own eyes if what she had been told about the young lady was accurate, and not just another bit of gossip flown around by “those dark-feathered chatterboxes.”
Valeria’s home had a beautiful view — it was designed by her father, a famous architect. The three-story dome house had big windows, and the swimming pool was surrounded by bamboo trees, a tall cypress tree, many yummy hibiscus bushes, and a large vegetable garden. There were also flowering plants with purple and pink blossoms, and white roses, which all together produced a sweet fragrance, carried far by the hill’s breezes.
Ardillananda saw Valeria for the first time in the pool, taking a swimming lesson. Mike, her instructor, was a former swimming champion. He was teaching her how to swim underneath the water for long periods of time. Using a toy dolphin, Mike was encouraging Valeria to rescue a dolphin trapped in a net in the deepest part of the pool. That idea of saving a drowning dolphin seemed to give Valeria the courage to dive deep. “You can do it!” Mike repeated, cheering her on.
Valeria liked swimming, something Ardillananda could not do. Ardillananda thought to herself, This young lady seems to be fearless, focused, very determined and undisturbed by anything.
Fig and Chill had passed on another bit of information — something the crows noticed when they watched the children go to school. Valeria had a little coordination problem, and some kids made fun of her about it.
They also mentioned that Valeria was very smart, and had an extraordinary memory. She got quite good grades in all subjects except sports, drama and crafts. Valeria was uncomfortable dancing or singing in public, since she was by nature quiet and shy. Some kids, and even a few adults, said she didn’t seem to have a sense of humor!
When she was overwhelmed, Valeria burst into tears and made a strange high-pitched sound. She would then enter her own world, where no one else could join her. Sometimes there was a tic in her brown eyes, which she would blink quickly and repeatedly.
During her swimming lesson Valeria noticed the orange squirrel watching her. When the lesson was finished Valeria and Ardillananda gazed at each other with curiosity for some time. They seemed to know right away they would become good friends and partners, in spite of the fact that both had an unpleasant memory of the other’s kind.
Mean rock throwers and an unexpected bite!
Ardillananda had been scared of humans since the time a group of young kids threw rocks at her for target practice. She was badly hurt and it took her a few months to fully recover. From her bed in a medium-size tree, she spent many days looking at the reservoir. The crows brought her food and water, she was very thankful to them for that.
During her recovery she noticed the skies were getting darker and the colors of the rainbow were dissipating. The water was not as tasty. She was mad, and resentful about humans, especially children.
For her part, Valeria had a bad memory of a grey squirrel. When she was four years old, she was in a park with her mother sitting on a bench. Her mother was working on her computer editing an article for a magazine, so Valeria decided to follow a grey squirrel — she wanted to share a walnut with the little creature.
As Valeria held out the walnut the squirrel approached her, but then suddenly bit her index finger. “Ouch,” Valeria said, but she did not cry. Her mother ran to her and took her to the doctor right away. She had to get a vaccination, and her whole hand was wrapped up for a few weeks.
Like most of us, Ardillananda and Valeria carry some scars, and good and bad memories, some deep and others not so serious.
When Valeria was 12 years old, she noticed humans not only hurt animals for fun but were often mean to each other. Perhaps they were just bored, she thought, or were greedy or jealous or angry. Also, at this time in our story, chocolate was becoming scarce in the markets and it was hard to spot a real rainbow in the Hollywood Hills.
Love for the Amazon rainforest
Valeria was a young ranger, trained by the National Park Service — she had a ranger hat with all the emblems. She only liked wearing green-colored clothing, and she liked to eat only foods with circular shapes like blueberries and triangular shapes like pizza slices.
The Amazon rainforest had been her favorite subject since the moment she read an article titled: “Scientists know more about the deepest oceans than the Amazon rainforest”.
For some reason when she read that, she wanted to know more about this part of the world. Her dream was very clear: she wanted to travel to South America to visit “the lungs of the planet,” or as she cleverly said, “the kidneys of the world!”
Valeria wanted to swim with pink dolphins in the rivers, and talk with jaguars, harpy eagles, parrots, all types of monkeys, bugs and butterflies, frogs, snakes, lizards and spiders.
She studied a lot about the animals, reptiles, insects, and plant life of the Amazon, and had a big collection of books, stuffed animals, and articles from magazines her mother wrote for.
Valeria loved to take notes and cut out pictures to paste in her secret diary, to keep what she needed to make “good science.” Sometimes she even drew her own pictures of things that captured her imagination!
She wanted to be ready for her next adventure. Her mother had promised that for her 13th birthday the family would travel to the Amazon. So Valeria prepared in every way she could.
Once a week, pizza and lemonade
After she was settled in her new home, Valeria invited Fig and Chill and Ardillananda to a gathering in her garden once a week, from 3 to 5 pm on Monday. She wanted to share with them what she already knew about the Amazon. This helped her to study even more, and be better prepared for her trip.
The squirrel and the crows were very interested to learn new things, and improve their vocabulary. They listened closely to every word Valeria said and asked good questions. Ardillananda did not even care about missing her Monday nap! And they all started to like the pizza that was served with lemonade at the end of each Monday’s session.
Ardillananda remembered very well their first meeting. Valeria showed them the exact location of the Amazon rainforest on a large map and told them something amazing about its trees: “Scientists estimate there are 390 billion individual trees, divided into 16,000 species. The Amazon represents over half of the planet’s remaining rainforests and is the largest and most biodiverse tract of tropical rainforest on Earth”.
“It’s here,” she said, pointing on the map to Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Paraguay, Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana. She then showed them all the countries again, making sure they learned how to say each country’s name correctly.
Valeria mentioned that cacao trees grow there and some of them are almost 5000 years old. “Perhaps the cacao tree is the perfect tree to make a home!” Ardillananda thought out loud.
Fig and Chill told Valeria they had relatives in the Amazon, called toucans. They were similar to them in size and shape, but their beaks were large and strong and colored like rainbows. The crows wanted to know more about toucans, because they had been told those birds followed their family tradition and were news reporters wherever they lived.
Valeria said, yes toucans are indeed very smart, skillful flyers, and good looking, colorful birds.
That night before going to bed, Valeria did her regular ritual. She wrote some notes in her journal about the day, and drew a picture of what she remembered. Then she carefully placed the journal under her bed.
In the following weeks, during their gatherings, something extraordinary happened. For both the young girl and the blissful squirrel, their world was indeed about to change.
To be continued in our next issue, AV#78 — Fall-Winter 2020
Chapter Two — Finding the Perfect Tree
Sofía Puerta Webber (Jyoti) studies communication and is a journalist. Born in Bogotá, Colombia, she grew up near the Amazon region and did research on the impact of illegal harvesting in indigenous communities.
Sofía moved to the U.S. in 2002, bringing her interactive workshop called Shiwido™. She lived first in Boston, then moved to Los Angeles, and now lives in San Diego CA. Sofía is a Yoga Acharya from the Sivananda lineage.
Shiwido™ incorporates music, story telling, yoga and mindfulness. The Legend of Shiwido™ is inspired by her experience in the Amazon region, and by every child that has been in her workshops and classes.
Olga Kolomydtseva is a Russian artist and illustrator. She is a graduate of Omsk University in Siberia. During the early years of her professional career she worked as a designer for lifestyle and fashion magazines. Now, Olga is a freelance artist specializing in illustrations for children’s books.