Wishing on a Dark Moon

Maybe because it involved fire, maybe because they all had something to burn, they said yes.

I’d never paid much attention to the cycles of the moon, how my earthly body might be in tune with this celestial body. I come from a tradition of sun-worshippers, but other cultures use lunar cycles to set time and give meaning to the changefulness of life.

The new moon, or the moment of darkness between waning and waxing, marks the beginning of the month in the Hebrew and Chinese calendars, and the Old Farmer’s Almanac says that it’s the best time to plant vegetables that bear fruit above ground.


Burn what no longer serves you, and say a prayer for what you want to grow, wise women suggest, because this is the order of the universe. One cycle fades, another emerges.

It was raining steadily outside. Diana and I had changed out of wet clothes into pajamas. The air hung with the perfume of ginger, garlic, and broth from the soup we had for dinner.

“You’re going to burn your enemies?” Luke asked me.


My list was two pages long. I ripped it out of my journal as the kids quandaried over what to put down. “I wrote about my fears,” I told them, “and thoughts that make me feel insecure.”

The new moon is also called the dark moon, because it looks as black as the night sky.

I didn’t expect the boys, now 13 and 10, to start looking for small writing paper in the pie chest. Diana paced around the playroom, reminding us that we weren’t going to tell anyone what we wrote.


They used to say this in church: Give your worries to God. Lay them down at His feet.

How did this work? I wondered. I was too ashamed to tell God things like, “I’m not even sure you exist.”

When I was about 8 years old, my Southern Baptist grandmother gave me a daily Bible verse tear-off calendar. I peeked ahead to see what message had been selected for my birthday. It was Matthew 8:26: “Why are you fearful, O ye of little faith?”

My life has been a dance of trying to hide what I was afraid had already been revealed.


Mark’s crushed paper ball made the candle flame muscle up and arc. Luke’s crumpled piece made a broad wall of light.

I scrolled my pages and touched them to the flame. They became a gray log, and I thought of fallen trees in the woods, bark peeling off in curls.

When Diana placed her squared folded sheet into the pillar candle, the schoolgirl blue lines stayed neat while frilly waves of sunset orange and night black advanced.

The earth knows how to transform, how to receive and dissolve. This beautiful merciful destroyer.


Wax came spilling down, running willy-nilly over the table. We put out the fires with splashes of water, then celebrated with rhubarb sauce over vanilla ice cream. Our table looked like a moonscape, or a funeral pyre. An after-party.

A few hours later when the last sunlight had leaked from the sky, Diana came downstairs, eyes blinking in the kitchen glare where Mark was making a poster on the Roman military. She said she was hot, but she pulled me close.

I climbed into bed with her, and she clutched my shirt with one hand, burying her head into my chest. “I said I wanted to give up being scared of the dark but I’m still scared,” she whispered. “Even more than before.”

“When you look something in the eye,” I said, “it can be more scary than when you were running away.” And I told myself as I spoke to her, “Sometimes we need to give it more time. Trust that it’s working even if it doesn’t seem that way at first.”


Faith is hard to hold in a place where magic isn’t real if it can’t be proven with test tubes and microscopes. When we can’t see all that is unfolding: the seeds that are growing underearth, the ghosts collapsing into the night.

“You should go,” Diana said when we heard my husband unlocking the front door and looking for me.

Dov’è la Mamma? he called up the stairs.

“He’s missing you,” she said. “I’ll be okay with the light on.”


My new moon prayer:

Take away my doubt and my shame, and replace it with compassion and trust as steady as the sun.

Show me how to stand in my own light, even when the world is bright and actionful.

Open my perception to the signs and symbols that are always here, pointing me where I need to go.

Amen.

Expressive Writing Circle This Summer

This summer I’m co-hosting an expressive writing circle for women with the wonderful, soulful Pleasance Silicki, founder of Lil Omm Yoga and the LOLA Community.

Expressive writing is personal and emotional writing that is not concerned with craft, structure, or even punctuation. It simply expresses what is inside our heart and mind.

The act of translating our experiences into words helps release pent-up feelings, as well as giving us valuable insights in our selves and opening the flow of creativity inherent in every one of us.

The circle will take place July 12-August 16 on Monday mornings at 6:30am on Zoom. (This is soul time — sometimes you have to get up a little early to make space for it!)

To join, visit the event page in the online LOLA Community. When you RSVP, you will be prompted create a free account. Cost for the circle is by donation ($20-60) via Venmo @lolacommunity or PayPal.me/lilomm

No experience in writing, no desire to publish anything needed — just an interest in exploring self-expression in a safe and supportive community!

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me at amycsuardi@gmail.com.

Guns and Roses, Whiskers and Cherries

Rain-damp hair on the pillow. Warm knees that have traversed the sidewalks to and from the elementary school twice today. The cicadas are churning the air with dazzle, a mass seduction outside my window.

One hour after midday: this is when I rest my bones, my eyes, my overworld persona, and sink into oblivion — even just for a swirl. Soon it will be time to go back to the school, buy the bread, pick up the car, prepare another dinner, play a board game — but now I let myself pool.

The cat meows at the door. “You want to be with me?” I think as I open the door, as if there is no one else, and here — here is the single soul.

The cat kneads, purring and pressing my muscles with his paws. Does he think I’m his mother, his mate … both?

The silver shimmer of cicada song rises and falls like waves. It spills as soon as I try to collect it.


When I wake past 2:00, my dreams evaporate as I try to fix them on a page. Before I brew the afternoon coffee, I bury my nose in the cat’s jowl and drink deep of his fur.

Thank you for loving me. Thank you for not caring whether I win or lose. Thank you for keeping an eye on me, even when you are sleeping.


In early June, small fruits and the first greens of the garden are overflowing at the farm stand, in the produce aisles, and around our garden — blueberries, strawberries, rhubarb. Snap peas, lettuce, and kale. Arugula so mature it fades right after it’s cut. Soon it will be time to pick the peaches and blackberries that are blushing in the sun.


With long leather gloves, I wrap climbing roses around the arbor. Plastic water guns are slung on the driveway, while the kids climb ladders to pick cherries. Tart and translucent with a shade of bitterness, perfect for folding inside a deep buttery crust.

The best way to pit a cherry is to wedge a spoon into where it was separated from the tree and scoop out the heart. My helper Luke wanders off and leaves me alone with my work.

I feel content when I’m making a pie. Pressing the cracked ball of pastry dough with a rolling pin, it expands into round puffs. A cloud of cosmic dust spreading on the counter.

Half a cup of sugar, a teaspoon of cinnamon, a pinch of nutmeg, and some cornstarch so the juice will globe around the fruit.

“The universe is expanding faster than a spaceship can go and it’s getting faster and faster,” Luke told me the other day as I dropped him off to one of his last days of 5th grade.

Over and under, I weave thick strips of salty dough into a framework that melts in the warmth of my hands.


When the pie is in the oven, it’s time to get lunch on the table. Looking at the bounty in the fridge, I love seeing what must be eaten, what can wait, what needs rescuing.

The tomatoes are on the edge, so I throw a few moldy ones in the compost bin, then toss the rest in oil and salt and roast them along with the pie. Mint green kohlrabi gets cleaned and cut into half moons for an appetizer.

The strawberries are turning wine-red, so I throw them in a pot with some rhubarb and sugar to make a sauce for ice cream when all the pie is gone.

Arugula is washed and tossed with matchstick carrots, lemon balsamic vinegar, and olive oil, and piled on 6 plates. And the honeydew can be sliced and arranged on a platter, making room in the fridge.

As I set down paper-thin slices of coppa and a wedge of caciotta sent via DHL from Milan, the oven begins to sigh the curled perfume of fruit pectin and flour.


When the pie is done, we’ll go look for camping equipment. Maybe Luke will want to join Scouts again. My husband used to camp in the summers on the beaches of Greece. “I don’t know how to set up a tent,” Luke grumbles, and Mark predicts, “We’re going to get lost a thousand times.” Diana grimaces and says, “I have to go camping too?”

Maybe the plan won’t work, maybe the sleeping bags will gather guilty dust in our garage, but I can picture a new version of our family unfolding as our daughters leave the nest. With just a quarter turn of the kaleidoscope, I see the 5 of us disappearing into a wilderness. I wouldn’t mind getting lost.

The depth of my life takes place, not on billboards or headlines, concert halls or stadiums, but in the sorting of hand-me-downs and the soothing of a child. Moments that add up to a life neither extraordinary nor ordinary, but one that keeps circling deeper into something I do not know how to name.

When I’m tending roses or children, I’m not looking in the mirror, deciding that something is missing. When I’m tending, I’m not thinking, Is this important?

This is uncomplicated, this is true. This is a pie coming out of the oven, red syrup bubbling over the lattice crust, smelling of flowers and rain.

Vaccinated but Still Vulnerable

The final battle with the coronavirus is being fought inside my body. I got my second Moderna vaccine yesterday, and as I lie in bed today, I can feel the struggle inside. Pressing against the backs of my eyes, the skin of my lips, the nodes of my knees.

From my bed upstairs, I hear the family discussing lunch. It’s Virginia’s turn to prepare, and Enrico doesn’t want the usual vegan bowl veggie melange. 

“But I don’t want pasta!” Virginia says. 

“What about tuna salad?” Luke suggests. 

“I can’t eat tuna!”

Eventually the discordant notes relax into a kind of rhythm, even though there are still flares (“Mark, what are you doing to help?”) and the sound of Kanye West singing “Through the Wire” jumbles through it all. 

Eventually the music gets turned off and everyone sits down. I hear the deep voice of my husband, this man who has taken care of me and our children for 20 years now, and I am not sure who I am without him.


By the time I got this second shot, they were practically begging people to come in. No more pre-registering on mysterious waiting lists, no more listserv messages that the MedStar in Georgetown or the Six Flags parking lot had extra doses. The D.C. Health Department was even giving away beers if you’d get a J&J shot in the arm. 

After dropping off Diana at a playdate, I stopped at the CVS on the corner. Before public schools went virtual, this store used to be swarmed with teens trolling for chips and candy and pop, but a renovation during the pandemic transformed it into an urgent care clinic with a convenience store on the side. The only one there, I received my shot in the new immunization suite, and then after walking past the rows of gummy vitamins and bandaids, I walked home by myself.

Now as I lie in bed with wool blankets wrapped around me and a cup of tea by my side, my joints are scarlet iron, my muscles bend as easily as metal sheeting, and my skull is lined with aluminum, registering the slightest electrical current.

The battle with this disease was once fought outside, with masks and distancing, sterilizing and shuttering. As I lie in bed while my cells are learning how to fight it, this feels like a private showdown. But I know it is a victory at the end a long war fought by others. Scientists and lab techs, doctors and nurses, pharmacists and trial volunteers, and all the people who told us with their lives: take care of each other. This is serious.

To be part of the human race is to be both gloriously soft and open to attack as well as inventive enough to outsmart the attacker. Every day I am supported by human beings I’ll never meet, who smooth the sidewalks under my feet, who hang the telephone wires above my head. Those who have come before me, and those who will carry on.


The morning after my convalescence, I am up for yoga. I feel my strength again, the beauty of a body that is alive and working. It feels like I have made it through a ring of fire. 

It’s so strange to move through a normal world again, to hug friends, to feel the wind against my face, to go inside people’s houses. And yet I know, even if it looks the same, we are different. 

I now know I am stronger when I take off my armor and stand here, small and bare. Underneath all the colors, the shapes, and various patterns of human beings, we are all the same.

Denying that pain and death are as much a part of life as joy and birth, as I once did, is to live halfway. When I open my heart to all that life brings — the suffering and the love, the anguish and the tenderness — I am wondrous at how it feels to be whole, and thankful to all the beings who have conspired to keep me alive.

The Summer of Love and Death

I walk to yoga in the park. It’s only 8:45 in the morning but the air is already ringing with the steady rattle of cicadas. It’s the moment of tension in an opera right before the stab, or the kiss, except this thrumming will go on for hours.

Under a generous beech tree, we spread out our mats. A man sleeps on a bench by the path. The teacher helps a cicada off her mat with her sandal before she starts the class with a round of Om. 

A massive cohort of cicadas called Brood X is emerging in D.C. and across the central and eastern U.S. from Ohio to New York. They are not the August singers. These periodical cicadas only come out every 17 years, and when they finally emerge to mate, their life will be almost over.

After school Diana and her neighborhood friends collect cicada exoskeletons. Still clinging to tree trunks and fence posts all over our neighborhood, they are shadows of the nymphs who lived under the earth for 17 years. Now they have transformed themselves into black winged beings. The girls make piles of honey-colored shells and stick them to their shirts like broaches.


We do cobra and cow poses under the beech tree. Its branches reach out to give me shade. The grass underneath bends to hold me. Grips and grooves in the dirt help my feet find balance. In the studio I wobble — here I am a dancer.

By 3 o’clock in the afternoon, the steady ringing has given way to a searing razz. Entire trees are on fire with rattle. Flames of cicada song lick the sky, even though the air is still on this late May day. 

On schoolday afternoons, neighborhood girls extend their hands to cicadas in the grass. Diana names the one on her arm ‘Beauty Orange-Eyes Rose’ or ‘Beau-Beau’ for short. And this one, she tells me, is called ‘Matilda Angela Hope.’

What is one of your favorite sounds? was the question we asked at a family meeting this winter. “Frankie’s claws clicking on the floor,” said Diana. “Frankie purring,” said Luke. For Mark it was the sound of the dishwasher, Sofia the whispering in her A.S.M.R. videos. I said mourning doves in spring, but I wished I had thought of my husband’s answer: cicadas.

By now, cicadas litter the sidewalks: crushed, mangled, or partly eaten by birds or squirrels. Alone they are small, but together — in the tens of billions this year — their music has become the air itself.


“Cicadas breathe with their butts,” Diana’s friend explains. “That’s why they can stay alive without their heads.” 

I find two cicadas touching, butt to butt, on our driveway. In a month or so, their babies will hatch. They will burrow into the ground like their parents did and feed on tree sap for another 17 years. And then, it will be their turn. 

For this pair, all that will be left after their striving is to let go. Let go of the bodies that brought them together, the bodies that sang, that flew, that loved. Let go and return to the nothing and the everything.


It’s 92 degrees in the house and sweat is beading on my husband’s forehead. When I ask him if we should turn on the air conditioning, he says, “No, it’s nice to hear the sound.”

Eventually we give in, sealing ourselves into a box: smooth and predictable, pleasant and very quiet.

In the morning, I will open the windows to hear them again, and when I walk outside, the song of cicadas will tell me, You live in a place humming with aliveness. Here there is harmony and heartbreak, synchronicity and chaos. And underneath it all, a deep majestic order that requires nothing from you to unfold in perfect timing. Nothing from you, except maybe for you to feel it, to know it.

Another Daughter Leaving

Virginia and I walk to the Indian place on the corner for our bi-monthly lunch date. They seat us at our favorite booth by the window, and I gaze across the table at her. She looks down, puts her napkin on her lap, and sneaks a glance up at me. She has made her eyeliner in a cat-eye style I remember doing, and the hair around her face is pulled up into a half ponytail. Matching her gold hoop earrings is a necklace that says “Milano.”

She’ll be off to college in 3 months. Only a few weeks ago, I felt crumpled by the task of raising a teenager. I’m not doing it right. I know nothing. I’m harming her instead of helping her. Now over Baighan Bharta and Aloo Palak, we talk about religions and the Enneagram, manifesting and desire, choosing college classes, and the time that I failed Physics for Poets.

What would the past 17 years have been like if I had been less fearful, and more loving? If I had not been ashamed of who I was? If pearls had formed around the grit of my regrets, and I had jewels to then press into her hands?


For Mother’s Day last week all I wanted was for everyone to go on a family picnic at the dairy farm. It was the first Mother’s Day that not all of my children were there. Sofia is in New Mexico working on a farm, and next year, Virginia will be gone too.

Standing on that pasture under the cold May sky, I felt smaller. Smaller in the way that you do when you take off a heavy wool parka that you don’t need anymore.

I tried to be who I was supposed to be — strong, sure, un-confusing. Then motherhood became a shield that helped me hide all of who I am.

The waiter with the shiny head and jovial eyes brings us a take-home box, and as we pack away the eggplant and tomatoes, the spinach and potatoes, Virginia tells me how every morning she goes over what she’s grateful for. “But if you don’t say why you’re grateful, it doesn’t work,” she tells me. “It just becomes a list.”

Who am I to her now, who is she to me? Once dancing in the roles that life had cast us in, we are now characters leaving the stage. I who made rules, monitored, and enforced. She who needed guidance, protecting, guard rails. What remains is something that cannot be categorized or explained. No teacher and no student — maybe we have always been both.


“You don’t realize what power the top bunk has,” I overhear Mark saying one night in his room while he and Virginia are trying to pull a fitted sheet around the hard-to-reach corners. “Monsters can’t get you up here.”

“You don’t think monsters can fly?” Virginia says, as she tickles him and tells the story about how she used to hang from the top bunk to make faces at Sofia, and one time she fell off, laughing and crying at the same time.


When she is away at work one night, I find her pine green fleece jacket inside out on the window seat, and intertwined in it, a strand of her golden hair.

There are only so many more vegan grain bowls she’ll prepare for us, only so many episodes of Master Chef we’ll watch together, only so many mornings her sweet-sad pop songs will billow through the house.

When she gets home, she’ll fix a snack and go down to watch The Sopranos until after I’ve gone to bed. In the morning I’ll coast by her as she cooks her oatmeal before logging into her Stats class. When she leaves for work, I will have already gone to pick up Diana. We go on with our lives.

A wave crests, and then it falls. The day unravels, night comes. Endings and beginnings, leavings and arrivals: they’re all bound into one unbreakable thing.

Mothers and children, grandmothers and grandchildren, ancestors and unborn babies, inextricably tied one to another. There is no end and no beginning. Yet in the heaving, tumbling middle, it feels like we are living through a million deaths and a million births.

Art by Florence Harrison from The Early Poems of William Morris

Flying Again for the First Time

When the officer in the security line looked at my photo, she asked me to pull down my mask. Then she looked at me for a beat, and as a minister would bless a child, she smiled and said, “Thank you. Have a wonderful trip.”

Dulles airport. I haven’t been with so many people all at once since the George Floyd protests. After eddying at the banks for a year, I am joining the river again.

I’m heading to Austin, Texas to meet up with college friends. Our 30th reunion will take place online, and my friends will curl my hair and help me with my Zoom background. It will rain the whole weekend, but we’ll talk non-stop and laugh until we cry, and it will feel like I’m reuniting with a self that I haven’t seen in a long time.

I had forgotten how fun it was to go so fast. One hundred and eighty-four miles per hour when the 747’s wheels lift off the ground. My body merges with my seat.

Above the clouds, there is only light. A field of ruffled cotton. Sun glints a diamond in the curve of the tail wing.

My arm still aches from the first shot. If it weren’t for the masks covering everyone’s faces, it would feel almost normal. I remember all the people in the terminal sitting in front of iPad menus, drinking, eating, and talking, while flames blazed on large-screen TVs saying, “Mass cremations in India continue.”

To come back to earth you have to go through the clouds. When everything outside is white, you don’t know where you’re going or where you’ve been. The plane shakes up and down, left and right. Your stomach falls, bags tumble, things slide down the aisle, and when the wheels hit the ground, your bones meet.

“United was the first commercial airline to deliver the Covid-19 vaccine to the U.S.,” a short film announces on the screen in front of me. Massive pallets wrapped in dry ice are loaded into the bellies of passenger planes. Men in fluorescent vests operate forklifts, and when the hold is full and a worker waves from the door before it closes, I start crying and I don’t know why.

In the grass by the runway, pink primroses sway in the wind, and rain splatters the windows.

Emergency alerts bleat from phones in the cabin. But it’s not about a hurricane: free vaccines are now available at all pharmacies.

I may think I’ve made it because I’m healthy or careful or lucky, but really it’s because I have been saved by the goodness of strangers. Harvesting the food, driving the trucks, checking the passports. Laying the pipes, testing the samples, landing the planes. My life depends on ordinary heroes.

“Thank you for coming,” I say, the night I return to D.C. to the taxi driver who wanted to quit for the night, but who came to the airport when he heard about the long line. Thank you for bringing me home.

First Day Back at School

Thursday, April 22, 2021

8:15 a.m.

Today I bring Luke to school for the first time in over a year. In his backpack are Covid-19 test results, a signed daily health tracker, hand sanitizer, a bottle of water, his Eureka workbooks, and a packet of cheddar sandwich crackers.

He’ll be going to school for math and social studies two mornings per week. In our arms are stacks of library books to return and a flower from the garden.

We don’t see any other kids walking to school. No high schoolers pouring off the city buses, buying candy and chips at the CVS. No packs of middle schoolers, looking at their phones, shuffling down Wisconsin.

Just this 10-year-old boy with his red backpack and his middle-aged mother carrying a daffodil, waiting at the crosswalk by the cars lining up at the intersection.

8:25 a.m.

Two large white tents have been set up on the mulch playground, and kids are climbing the monkey bars. We look for the face that we’d only seen on an iPad rectangle.

Clumps of adults in dark coats huddle around children in front of the Pre-K classrooms, but where is the teacher who loves yoga and vegan food, whose parents immigrated from India and who’s passionate about social justice?

In normal times the morning assembly on the turf field would be thronging with over 750 kids and their parents. Today there are about 40.

We spot an orange 5-G sign and find the children, half covered with masks, that Luke learned to read and write with, the kids he’s sat next to in morning meetings, on field trips, at picnics, around lunch tables, in gym classes, and closing circles for the past 7 years.

The eyes of a boy whose mom I haven’t seen in a year catch mine for a split-second and seem to say, I know you.

8:30 a.m.

“You hold this now,” I say, handing Luke the daffodil.

Another 5th grade teacher comes over to a huddle of Luke’s classmates and I overhear her say, “… so excited to see you, but…” Luke hands me back the daffodil.

“A migraine,” one of his classmates explains to me.

8:35 a.m.

I give Luke a back hug before he and his classmates follow the substitute into the school.

9:03 a.m.

Unlocking the front door, our house smells like the breath of children and sunlight. A single boy sits in an office chair facing his desktop computer in the living room.

I lay the daffodil in the refrigerator on its side next to a can of cat food.

11:27 a.m.

The front door opens. Luke is in the foyer taking off his shoes, with wind on his eyelashes and his body swaddled in fresh air.

“I forgot to eat my snack,” he explains, as he takes another cheddar cracker out of the package.

First they had math on the smart board. Their assistant teacher was beamed in. “I raised my hand every time, but she didn’t see me.”

Music class was held outside. They sang 5 songs — Mr. W strummed his guitar — and they played Duck Duck Goose to the tune of Do Re Mi.

Friday, April 23, 2021

7:10 a.m.

I wake up Luke for his second day of in-person class. “Shhh,” I say, as he thumps and clonks and makes trombone noises in the bathroom. “No one else has to get up this early!”

8:24 a.m.

At the turf field, about 15 kids are standing or sitting cross-legged in a drawn out line behind the 5-G sign. They seem kind-of nervous, especially the boys.

8:28 a.m.

A tall woman with long black hair and a poncho walks toward Luke’s class, smiling so brightly it was like she wasn’t wearing a mask.

“Ms. G, you have legs!” exclaims a girl. Luke’s teacher gives elbow bumps, takes hugs, and offers to carry the backpack of a girl with a broken leg, and then Luke grabs the daffodil, extends his arm and says, “Here,” and her eyes meet mine and she waves.

He looks 4 years old. I am young too. The dullness of “I know how this goes” is splashed off. Everything is new.

8:34 a.m.

Luke walks back to me and says, “I didn’t know she was so tall.”

As Ms. G makes her way down the line, re-meeting every child, I notice the way her eyelashes curl at the tips, the way that one of her fingernails is painted with glitter, how the polka dots in her bow collect the sun. Against the turf and the sky as clear as water, she feels like a dream.

“Yesterday Mr. B forgot about snack,” a boy with a red knit cap tells her.

“Oh, don’t worry, I won’t forget,” Ms. G says. “Snack is the most important part of the day.”

I thought you could know someone through virtual meetings and photographs, newsletters and friendly emails. I thought you could know someone by ‘All About Me’ slideshows and the way their voice wafts through your living room every day.

Taller, yes. More expansive, more beautiful, yes, but there was something more. More alive. She was exuding aliveness. She was life.

A Broken Circle

I had forgotten we had apple trees on the farm. The kids just run past the orchard on the way to catch a frisbee or run through a sprinkler.

When my grandfather was alive, the trees were so laden that apples would fall all over the ground and rot. They weren’t the kind you get in grocery stores. Small and green and covered with sooty blotch, they were perfect in the pies and apple sauce that my grandmother would make. We could feed them to the cows, let the birds eat all the high ones, and still there were plenty for everyone.

It’s spring break and we have come to Ohio to see my parents. Only Mark, Luke, and Diana could come — Enrico, Sofia, and Virginia stayed home to work. The speakers in the car went kaput during the first hour, so we passed the trip in the old-fashioned way: with inane songs and potty humor. “Icabod is itchy, I am too!” Luke sang from the way back. “Has it gotten stuck in your head yet?”

In April, most the trees along the highways are still wiry brushes, but some have been rolled in a colored syrup. Chartreuse, persimmon, or purple, pinpricks of color outlining the structure, revealing its secrets.

We hugged my parents with bare faces for the first time in a year. Around the dinner table, we sat close together eating every last spaghetti strand clung with my mom’s meat sauce. It was as if nothing had happened.

But time could be measured in the wrinkles around my eyes, in Mark’s stature, now taller than mine, and in the gait of my parents, slower, tentative. They showed us how they sit on a bench before dinner to watch the kittens prance in the garden, chase flies, and stand at the bottom of trees looking up at the birds. And I know they are in the sunset of their lives.


The apple trees in the orchard call to me. A band of angels offering armfuls of blossoms to the sky. Behind every open flower are three or four more pink bells, ready to unfurl. Each five-petaled flower is the face of a child.

After dinner while the kids are playing on the tree swing and my mom is clipping spent daffodils in the falling light, I decide to take a walk around the field. Constellations of fat yellow dandelions are scattered on the path, but it’s the few who have become blowballs that glow at sunset as if it were my eye they wanted to catch instead of the wind.

In August, a sea of soybean plants had risen in this field, and before that in a rare double-crop year, muscly wheat stalks heavy with berries were being harvested when we visited, 40 rows at a time, chaffed, and piled into mountains of gold in open trucks. 

Now on this quiet April evening, the field is striated with purples, yellows, and greens. Wide swaths of field balm, violets, butterweed, and wild onion have made the plot into a watercolor rainbow.

I’ve always been torn between the triumphs of human achievement and the unspeakable grace of what unfolds all by itself.

These bitter greens, once collected for nourishment or medicine, will soon be cleared so that we can inject seeds into the ground, the kind that will give us what we love and what we need. French bread and three-layer cakes, taco shells and dumplings, drywall and school glue, toothpaste and tires. 

One morning, I convinced the kids to help me walk around the perimeter of the lower pasture to pick up trash that had blown in from the highway. In summer, brush hides the Pepsi cans and Teddy Graham wrappers, Bedda Chedda packages, and dog food bags that we found. Spring’s bareness uncovers of the carelessness of man.


I tell my parents about the apple blossoms and how I’ve missed seeing them when we come in summer, how happy the trees seem to be. 

“Last year we only had two or three apples,” my mom tells me. She goes through all the things she and my dad have tried to help them. And then she says, “When Grandpa was alive those trees would be noisy with the buzzing of bees.” 

The next time I go to the apple trees, I hear the silence. A single honeybee is visiting. I take pictures of the blossoms again, but now their beauty is tinged with sadness.

The collapse of bee colonies is a sign of our modern blight, the sickness of the world. We have lost our sense of interconnectedness. Nature has become a resource we use to get what we want. Our domination is so complete that we will find ourselves alone, actors in a play we have decided is about us.


At the greenhouse by the cheap gas station and the bait shop, my mom asks the kids to help her select seedlings of cauliflower, brussel sprouts, cabbage, and broccoli.

She won’t need that many because she’s replacing one of her vegetable beds with a pollinator garden of butterfly bushes, Joe Pye weed, and cone flowers. When the owner sees her considering a packet of milkweed seeds, he laughs and says, “My grandmother used to make me go pull that up!”

The problem starts when we forget that everything is sacred. As long as some people or things on earth are revered and others are not, it will be hard to see the bees and the trees and the weeds as holy. Splitting the world splits us inside and we walk around broken, looking for something to make us whole, not knowing that we have been whole all along.

I had bad dreams one night, and as I prepared breakfast for myself the next morning in the cottage, I thought, What if I walked through my days seeing everything as sacred? The pasteurized homogenized milk in my coffee. The genetically-modified industrially farmed corn in my cereal. The dirty sock on the floor, the bricks in the big house, the glue in the particle-board bookshelf.

That sun-bleached potato chip bag forgotten by the side of the road — it’s sacred too. How could it not be when everything has come from the earth and everything will return to it?


On the day before we leave the farm, I put on my gloves to look for trash along the upper pasture. On the way, I visit a lush apple tree as beautiful as a statue, a barn that used to shelter the herefords that my grandfather kept, and the stone gate by Lower Twin that I knew when I was a child.

Collecting beer cans, McDonald’s cups, and ice cream tub lids is a way I can participate. One day this place will be ours to care for, and it to care for us.

In the pasture, I see what look like bones in the grass. The remains of a tree stump has been weathered by rain and whitened by sun. Filling its cavity and encircling it are choirs of purple dead-nettles, a plant once used for treating wounds and healing tuberculosis. In England it’s still called archangel.

When I treat everything as sacred — the faucet water that rinses my hands, the contact lenses I put in my eyes, the toothpaste that cleans my teeth — I slow down. And it becomes easier to do the hardest thing of all — to see myself as sacred. Even the white hairs that shine silver in the bathroom mirror. The skin on my calves that crinkle like crepe as I pull up my socks. I am part of everything that lives and dies.

I don’t feel so helpless anymore. And I stop worrying that I don’t know how to complete the circle. When I find the holiness in everything, I find the beginning and the end. I have a feeling that this knowing is all I need.