Ashes to Ashes
by Jill Bergkamp
Growing up in Northern California I never saw red clay.Third Place WinnerNext Honorable Mention
Close to the Santa Cruz Mountains, sandy soil dusted
my sandals as I walked the foothills or paced Monterey
beach. It was ten percent clay, I could sift it through
my fingers like sugar.
Down south where the Everglades’ warm soil is peat-based
and fertile, for twelve years our family attended Ash Wednesday
services in the Chapel with John Wesley stained-glass windows.
I heard the words, “You are dust, and to dust you shall return”
but the phrase didn’t hold significance until the year a friend
and two fathers passed away. Then, the words felt strangely fitting,
comfortable, to be reminded of mortality—that no matter my age
or location, my body, as everyone’s, would end in dust.
Now, in North Carolina, when I let the dog out on these wet March
mornings, she bounds back with orange-red clay and clumps of roots
between her claws. Mud clings to her whiskers, and her rusty snout
betrays the fact that she’s been digging again.
She is my empty-nest dog, the stray I adopted once my adult children
left home and I still needed to care for a living being. When it rains,
her black body is glazed with red, sometimes shining a wet depth of scarlet.
Ashes, like dirt, remind me there is no hiding. That when you reach
the bottom, your feet can sink, and stand, soil dusted, or with clay
squelched between your toes. That holiness is messy—mixed
with flesh and bone, roots and claws.
That God is in every kind of dust.