In the beginning

Once, I communed daily with my dog, the frogs, the milkweed, and the goldenrod that grew beside me -- until I couldn't anymore

In the beginning, the heat and the hum and the brightness surround and there is no separation.

Blue sky dotted with white. Yellow goldenrod, green ferns, dandelions, milkweed, all heaped together and laughing at the chaos they cause — impervious to the strain their existence has on grownups who try to mow them into normalcy and order.

To the left, Shish Kabob hill, named by my dad for when my sister zoomed down and stuck her ski pole in her boot.

To the right, a few cows lazily switching their tails on Nap hill, and the dusty road leading to town.

At the very end of the field, if you look carefully, there is the back of our wooden house. You can’t see the magical blue door, but you see the deck, the windows, the laundry trying to escape with the wind.

I grew up in Northern Vermont, and like a fish breathing the colors of the ocean, the separation between myself and the natural world was fluid. When I flopped on my stomach in the grass and smelled the earth, it was sweet. When I leapt off the 9-foot rock into the swimming hole, my joy flew. This thin membrane between me and the outside allowed me to pass through myself and into the grand buzzing around me.

Running in the dew with wet grass sticking to my ankles, I tumbled past the old cherry tree bent and black but giving shade, to the stream that trickled across the lower field whispering of the marsh a half-a-mile down. I had a game to play in that river concerning sticks. I knelt on the bridge and put my hand in the water, causing a frog to jump and reveal its closeness.

Milkweeds were recovering soldiers, their smooth stems bleeding a thick white blood. I’d round up their small pods and herd them into the mud, like the cows I saw on the farm down the hill who walked in manure to give milk.

Dandelions, upside down, joined the game as princesses, their hair curling when dipped in water.

Nearby, frostbitten apples crammed on a short stick roared in an imagined fireplace in a house I formed from trees, with rooms of soft pine needles and plenty of space to set up home. All this was sustenance enough…until one day it wasn’t.

One afternoon, when I was about 11, the sensation of being connected, vanished.

That day, the dog, the river, and I were getting ready to launch a fleet of sticks. I knelt, barefoot, on the bridge. Then, like dust going into a vacuum, the force that had spun my world of nature and childhood together evaporated. I stared down at the wood, but felt nothing. I called my dog to run with me, willing this to be enough. The woods, peeling with beech and heavy with evergreens, waited. But I could no longer join.

Many years later, when I first read Genesis, I thought of this day and my heart went out to Adam and to Eve. Like them, I had communed daily with the things growing wild beside me. I didn’t stop to consider why I played, and I did not consciously look up and see a tree called “knowledge,” but nevertheless, when I grew, a separation occurred.

Separation is inevitable, but sometimes, if you are lucky, the memory of connection remains.

Now, so many years later, in the hustle and bustle of Jerusalem, I close my eyes and I’m back in that place of wholeness. The grass is high, growing soft like ogre hair. A hawk circles in the empty sky.

“It was good” whispers G-d in a voice sunk deep down in my DNA.

And it was.

About the Author
Saskia Swenson Moss works for the Harold Grinspoon Foundation on PJ Our Way, a program that is changing the paradigm of Jewish education and engagement for American tweens. Saskia lives in the never boring city of Jerusalem with her husband, Yoni and her three children, Akiva, Yovel and Heleni.
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