Promised land

Promised land

A salamander’s exodus across a dirt-road desert marks a Seder for one determined not to spend it alone

BRATTLEBORO — As many of us are still not able to join together, may this story be a comfort.

Having been living in this region for only a few months before Passover, I found myself on my own. I had spent a few Seders by myself in previous years, but that was by choice - unlike this time.

So, determined not to be alone, I happened upon a very different type of Seder, but one I would not trade for anything.

It was the first night of Passover, the night of the first Seder. It was also the first night of the annual crossing of the salamanders when they go to the vernal pools to mate.

In an effort to save these creatures, Bonnyvale Environmental Education Center (BEEC) organizes groups of volunteers to protect the salamanders and their attending frogs as they cross the unpaved roads to these springtime vernal pools. I was one of those organized.

A group of us met with rain gear and flashlights in hand. Our task was to slow the oncoming cars so all the creatures could make the long journey across their muddy desert safely.

* * *

Recalling the luminous sheen of the salamander's skin, the darkness vaguely lit by what the sky could offer, and the scent of nature's abundance still deepens my breath.

My heart sensed the endlessness of time. Archetypal images rendered themselves in my mind's eye. I was filled with the presence of this ancient event that was whirling around in every sense I had.

Just as I could feel the deep paths of my ancestors' exodus laden with slavery's heaviness, I felt the salamanders' primal urge that propelled them toward their equally long journey across their dirt-road desert.

The vastness of the respective journeys resonated wide and deep within me.

* * *

One side of the road had just a few houses. Their various grasses and plants came to the edge of the road to meet the dirt and small stones that served as pavement.

Beyond this area lay the vernal pool, the land of milk and honey - or, rather, the water and algae that would be this night's creatures' promised land.

The woods from which the salamanders and frogs emerged were on our other side of the road. We kept vigilant eyes on the slope of the road that held the forest at bay, so as not to miss even one.

We walked slowly, always with our flashlights pointed toward the ground. What took us just a few seconds to cross took these beautiful spotted beings many minutes more.

What respect and awe we were all in at the determination and strength we were witnessing. There were times when it was too much to take. Our feelings got the best of us - we would gently pick one up and, with reverence, place them in the grass across the way.

We stayed for a few hours, adults and children, and ferried our charges.

* * *

The sound was all encompassing. While salamanders are silent, almost otherworldly, the frogs sing in different tones - some fast and high, others long and low. There were different species, each with their own song.

I saw my ancestors crossing the Sea of Reeds and heard their song. The trees curved their branches above us, forming a canopy. They looked like stained glass as the moon dappled them with its light. The rain was gentle and added its own harmony as it landed on the leaves and grass. These sounds of earth and animal were music of the highest kind.

It was not overly cold - it never is on Passover - but the light rain offered an edge that made the importance of this night sharp with focus.

We were there to help sustain the ecosystem and, as far as I am concerned, a culture - a lifetime that spanned eons of the same behavior with the same expectations each time.

The winter had melted away, the lushness of nature was awakening, and the rains had come. The water's ripples beckoned. It was now time to emerge and continue life while the land is verdant and moist.

* * *

Finally, all the salamanders that were going to cross that night had done so. Their exodus ended until the next rainy evening. How poignant, it felt to me, that on the first night, my Seder was one that had become animated and played itself out in front of me.

When the last person left for home and to warmth, I stood on the edge of the road that led to the vernal pool where I had placed so many to forge their way through the grass.

The mist of the night and continuing songs of the frogs and rain filled the air. I breathed in the deepness of the night. The frogs' dulcet tones began to sound like prayers. I stood still and softened my vision. My feet were grounded to the earth, but my head moved slowly back in time.

I began, softly at first, to sing Eliyahu's song. The longer I sang, the more I felt nature and history meld.

This was the embodiment of the Passover story, and I felt taken to the center of the pure essence of this holiday. The connection to my Jewish past, present, and future wrapped itself around me like a prayer shawl.

This was a true Seder.

This night was about freedom - the freedom to express one's true spirit, and the freedom to feel that there is truly a place for each of us.

I made my prayers and went home to have a cup of wine with Elijah.

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