Only a sliver of early morning light penetrated the gnarling dark oaks. The nuns made us form a line and led us through the school yard to a dirt trail that ultimately wound for miles through the dense pine forest. Passing through the school yard, which was quite large, at least an acre wide and long, someone long ago placed wooden sheep driven into the ground on wooden posts. I will never forget those sheep; their silence unrevealed disturbs me even now thirty years later.
The nuns led us on and on down the trail. After an hour of heavy walking, some of the little girls began to weep with hunger and fatigue. We stopped in a clearing just off the trail and all the children sat down on the dewy grass with the nuns themselves amongst us. We were happy for a little while. One of the older nuns pointed out a crow that was flying higher than I thought crows could fly and I somehow got it in my mind that crows were messengers from God, and that God was smiling down on our little gathering of resting nuns and children.
After we snacked on cheese and crackers and drank from glass bottles of water, they took us down to a dried up creek and told us to search for stones, gems, and Indian arrows. Even the nuns took part in the search; they were completely in uniform, habits and all. Although I was only four years old, I knew the severity, the weight, of their clothes was intentional; that they were dressed this way to spark poetry in our minds and I wonder now how they would respond if one of them should happen to read this somehow, somewhere. We were all seeking out something sacred along this white sandy dry creek. The nuns too wanted to find some object they could take home with them as a souvenir of this very profound day they had engineered. Some proof was needed of this time that was now passing and would pass into darkness like everything else, until even memory itself is no more.
There was a young nun slightly ahead of us who suddenly stopped and let out an amazed cry of wonder. She signaled us to come closer. All the children and the two older nuns circled around where the young nun was looking down: it was a snake skeleton, completely intact and ivory white. It reminded me of a fossil, even though at that young age I knew it was not. I almost cried out from the sheer beauty and mystery of the skeleton—we all looked down for a long time, realizing the lesson the nuns were teaching us, that the sacred is not merely given to us, but must be discovered, sought out and found. Eventually, we began our lonely trek back to the school, all of us knowing this day would live as long as we did.
2 | Psychopomp Magazine