Too Much Sky

Across from one of the nearby farms, a tired white house sits close to the road. Once, its most distinguishing characteristic was the pair of giant maple trees whose lush, full canopies overhung the road on one side and shaded the house on the other, their crowns reaching high above the roofline. They were cut down two years ago, which I discovered one bright March morning when I rounded the bend and didn’t recognize the view: An expansive curtain of cloudless blue, no longer interrupted by twin silhouettes as it dropped down to meet the flat brown carpet of winter lawns and empty fields. There was too much sky where the trees used to be.

The maples were an outpost for red-tailed hawks scanning the fallow fields for food, and for crows meeting to discuss the day’s business. They were home to families of squirrels, who would race down their trunks and across the road, toward the farm and the woods and brook beyond. Particularly in the summer, when they were plush with foliage, the trees softened the lines and angles of their surroundings—tidy rows of planting fields, pitched roofs of barns and houses, the straight black ribbon of asphalt that insists itself upon the terrain. The girth of their trunks said they had been present to generations of humans, animals, birds, plants. Theirs was a living history no human record could approximate. Their presence helped define that landscape for me. Now their stumps are weathered to a steely grey, but their absence can still feel as fresh as the first day I found they were gone. My mind continues to see them where they were, as they were—in anticipation or memory or denial—until I round the bend and see the open sky.


Stepping into the foyer of my childhood home, looking up into the kitchen, light streams through the window above the sink. There is too much sky. Missing from view is the shape of my mother, backlit by the sun, turning from the sink to welcome me home, “Oh, hi, honey, how are you?” Missing is the softness of her as she embraces me for a kiss, and her scent—freshly scrubbed and perfumed with Chanel No. 5 or Yves St. Laurent’s Opium—warm and spicy and…Mom. 

It is nearly two years since she died. Still, I expect to see her at the sink, facing out to the gardens and the woods beyond—rinsing dishes or preparing a meal or wiping crumbs off the counter or making any one of myriad gestures inscribed on my heart. Sometimes I do see her, in the same way I still see the maples. She is wearing her red holiday blouse and “ginger pearl” lipstick, light glinting off the drop earrings reserved for special occasions, apron tied around her waist, her sensible black shoes beneath sharply pleated black slacks looking as new as the day she bought them. Or she is casual in her buffalo check shirt and jeans, adjusting the kitchen table to make room for her guests, turning to offer a mug of tea, a bowl of fresh berries, a plate of crackers and hummus—her smile flashing, a giggle flushing her cheeks, brown eyes shining with pleasure and perhaps a little bit of mischief. She is shorter now with age, looking up into my face for signs that I am happy or stressed or tired, touching the stone in the necklace at my throat and admiring its color, asking for its name. I see her small hands, so like her own mother’s hands—unpolished nails trimmed to hug the tips of fingers knotted with arthritis, knuckles a little chapped and red; her dark hair, somewhat thinner now, is cropped into her trademark pixie and frames her open face, her soft and luminous skin. Handwritten notes are still stuck to the fridge in her neat cursive as distinctive as a fingerprint. She is here and she is not here, her energetic imprint etched into every inch of this place I will always know as home. 


People gravitated to my mother’s optimism and positivity. On the evening of her wake, despite the sleet and ice of a January storm, the room was full of people whose lives she had touched. The impression was of her warmth and joy brimming in those she left behind, uplifting us as they had always done, excluding no one. Sometimes my mother had seemed to me naive about the cruel realities of the world, and sometimes it had seemed to me that she willfully looked away from them. In that way she was different from me, with my desire to understand the dark matter of human nature and behavior, the causes and the costs.

Now that she is gone, as our world spirals deeper into political instability, war, and climate catastrophe, I appreciate how, like those great maples, she offered to all who knew her a quiet, steady and reliable presence in which to rest, be held, get fed, feel safe.  


When I feel anxious or despairing, I often go outside to watch and listen to the birds. Whatever known and unknown challenges they may be navigating, they appear to me to live in the moment, singing and eating, singing and breeding, singing and making the world around them more beautiful, more precious, for their presence. On the fifth day after my mother’s death, I was sitting on my back porch when a titmouse landed on a branch just inches from me. She stayed for what seemed a long time, watching me watch her, then flew off. Another titmouse immediately took her place. When that one flew away, a goldfinch flew in to replace her. This continued until five birds had visited the branch, completely unperturbed by my presence. Five days since her death, five birds for the five of us: Mom, Dad, my two sisters, and me. I’ve experienced nothing like it before or since. 

In the ensuing months, on multiple occasions a red-tailed hawk circled my parents’ house, its persistent cries pulling our attention upward to witness its slow and deliberate flight around and around the house, the yard. Dad, who says he never remembers his dreams, dreamed of a catbird this year, just before they made their annual return to the arborvitae trees that line the right side of the property. Catbirds mate for life, like he and Mom did, and return to the same habitat to nest, year after year. Once, my sister and father were having coffee on his deck and a great blue heron, flying low, circled the house—eventually leaving, then returning twenty minutes later to do a shorter, slower loop. 

The birds conjure my mother’s memory— her easy joy despite the turbulence of the world, how she lived according to her nature, the ways in which her life circled around her family, her friends, and her home.  They remind me of how she walked with beauty, grace, and kindness, despite the persistence of the cancer.


The morning after my mother’s wake, I awoke well before dawn, the memories and emotions of the previous night still running through me. In the eastern corner of the yard, I watched the sun rise over the distant hills with fiery insistence, pushing over the horizon like a baby crowning between his mother’s thighs until at last, he is free—visible and fully formed: I am here!

There is a tear in the web of limbs and branches through which I have always witnessed this ritual of renewal, an excess of space where bodies that once stood side by side now lie atop one another and the roots of their fellows.  Weakened by years of intermittent drought, felled by winter storms and wind, they are still entangled, horizontally now, feeding myriad lives in their community in a different way. 

Climbing higher, the dazzling orange orb suffused the sky with shades of blush and peach. So much sky. A breeze swept a dusting of snow off the trees and roof into the air before me. Suddenly, billions of glittering crystals were alight and dancing in the rosy-golden glow of dawn. An astonishing display, utterly magical. It’s so beautiful! 

I said the words to myself and felt Mom saying them with me. To me.

About the Author

Kristin lives in the wooded hills of Connecticut with her husband and their two feline companions. Her work has appeared in Dark Matter: Women Witnessing, Cloud Women’s Dream Society, The Pivot: Addressing Global Problems Through Local Action, and The Corona Transmissions: Alternatives for Engaging with Covid-19, from the Physical to the Metaphysical.

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