Mexico Last Days: March 18-19 2016

Waking up in the cloud forest was amazing experience. The night of our campout, I walked about half an hour alone into the forest before lying down to sleep. When the sun rose, I was delighted to see the colors return to the bromeliads and orchids in the canopy above. I gathered my belongings and walked over the valleys and ridges to our campsite, where we all waited for Teacher Alan to join us. The five of us did our yoga and meditation for the last time, and took a couple minutes to reflect on how this practice had worked for us over the two weeks. We then walked back to the house, did our chores, and ate a final delicious breakfast. The sun flower seedlings are looking awesome, and the beets are coming along great as well! We also took time to create a video encouraging other Quaker schools to switch to green energy, and Teacher Alan and I returned to the forest to water the Chicalaba seedlings we had planted a few days before. After lunch and rest, we drank a couple last-minute glasses of water and loaded our belongings into the truck. We drove to the top of campus, where we met our apprentice friends, Angel and his family, and Eduardo and Mauricio. We all rode together to the original cloud forest, and even got to meet the legendary Ricardo, founder of Las Cañadas! Together, we did a final moral imagination exercise in a circle of stumps where we imagined how our descendants would view the climate warriors of today. We practiced holding hands and acknowledging the life and power of other people. After this emotional moment, it was time for the sweat lodge!

The sweat lodge was one of the craziest experiences of my life. First we prepared verbally for the ritual, and then faced the four cardinal directions to the sound of Ricardo’s drum. The sweat lodge has a door in facing in each direction that corresponds both to natural elements and aspects of a person’s life and character. We then lined up and received small pieces of wood to pour anything we hoped to rid our lives of into. We each received a smudging from Ricardo before throwing our stick into the fire and entering the lodge. At first the sweat lodge was very dark and cool. Banana leaves carpeted the floor and flowers hung from the ceiling. We filed in a sat in a circle against the small igloo-like walls. Ricardo explained what would happen, and then the rocks were brought in, each one glowing red hot like it was from the core of the earth. The rocks were so beautiful! We greeted each rock, closed the door, and then began singing, imagining, and laughing as we cycled through first the Door of Earth and then the Door of Air. After the Door of Air, it was time to bring more rocks in. This time they were small boulders! It was at this point that I started to get really hot. Ricardo poured water on the rocks to make steam infused with the most delicious herbs I have ever smelled. We were all very, very sweaty at this point. At the Door of Water, the memories start to get a bit fuzzy for me. I remember my heart racing, my whole body being covered in sweat, and a sudden realization that I definitely had lungs and had better use them. We were splashed with water, given a chance to share our prayers and feelings, and hammered with hotter and hotter air in a beautiful mix of joy and pain. Then it was time for the Door of Fire. The Door of Fire is the hottest door of the sweat lodge. At this point I was lying flat on my back, very hot and completing unable to form most coherent thoughts. I have never felt so weak and strong at the same time. We were invited to think of a goal for our lives, and share anything we wanted to throw into the fire and rid from our lives. Reflecting on my determination to help the Earth and need to abandon my feelings of inadequacy felt like the culmination of everything I had learned in Mexico. The top door of the lodge was lifted, and our steam and feelings went flying up into much, much cooler air.

After the sweat lodge, I remember sitting in the river to cool off, lying on the grass and watching the sky spin above me, and realizing that I had momentarily lost my ability to speak Spanish. I felt very tired, very much part of a community, and strangely, very clean. I eventually walked into the cloud forest to change my clothes and had an encounter with some very large ants. I hope I did not disturb them too much. We rode the bus back up to the top of campus, and sadly said goodbye to Angel and our apprentice friends. We then drove to Orizaba, ate dinner together, and had a chance to walk around a different Mexican city. Over dinner, we gave each other compliments and appreciations for our roles during the trip. We stopped by Teacher Alan’s hotel room to receive new Angel Cards with values we hoped to embody on our post-Mexico journeys. I got Obedience, which I can only interpret as obedience to my commitment to enjoy every moment of my life as an environmentalist. After a wait at the bus station, we said goodbye to Teacher Alan and boarded our 1am bus for Ciudad de Mexico. Teacher Paula and I said goodbye to the others at JFK Airport, and then had an adventure involving several train rides, subways, broken phones, a lot of culture shock, and a period of looking for my parents at random train platforms in New Jersey. We finally found them and made it home safely, which was quite a relief!

After a week back in the USA, I’ve been trying to reflect on my experience at Las Cañadas. While I think it will take me years to process it fully, there are a few things I am sure of right now. One is that there are so many options for interacting with the Earth and others, and that the most rewarding involve being fully alive, taking risks, and being unafraid to really love something. Another is that helping the environment and living sustainably are incredibly fun and rewarding. I know that I’ve gained some self confidence and validation about what I want to do with my life, and that I will remember the amazing Mexicans I met for years to come. I think most importantly, I learned that even though the world and environment are incredibly messed up right now, there are so many options for fixing it and so many people across the world who genuinely care. I know I’m not alone.

With profound gratitude to Teacher Alan, Teacher Paula, Angel, Alba, Gloria, Ester, Eduardo, Mauricio, Daniel, Juan, Daniel, Dany, Yolanda, Tyde, Ricardo, Mishel, Hector, Pati, Julia, Concha, Carlos, Nuco, Juan José, and wonderful, wonderful Eugenio,


Note: We are still having trouble posting the pictures! Hopefully we will get some posted in the next week. Thank you for your patience!


Final Days

We have now been home for a couple days and other than getting used to the time zone, I have found myself missing many aspects of the life-changing trip. I miss my wonderful students, even if some of them did constantly talk over me in class. I miss our reading groups where I could see so many of the students’ determination to learn. I also miss spending hours working in the library in which I categorized and labeled hundreds of books. Even though there are so many aspects of this trip that I miss, there are definitely some parts of the trip that I won’t miss such as the random power outages, sometimes for the whole night. I also won’t miss the constant staring for being an “obroni”, or foreigner, everywhere I go.

There are many great lessons I learned while on this trip, but one of the most useful lesson/values I learned would probably be the importance of being flexible and going with the flow. I was very determined before the trip that I was going to teach my class the basics of ballet at my warm-ups at the beginning of the trip, but I had to scratch that idea after the first day because I realized that it wasn’t what the students enjoyed. They need to move around more to focus. So I decided, with the help of some friends on the trip, to teach my class different warm-ups that we do with Westtown’s dance program. We started off our second week of the trip with a lot of rain. This meant that we had to relocate my class to a smaller space. As a result of this, many of my warm-ups had to be scraped due to lack of space, so I had to think quickly to figure out what we could do and what music would go well with the warm-ups to keep the students interested. One of the last days of the trip, we went to pick up pieces from the woodcarvers in a nearby town. When we were a couple minutes away, our trusty red van that we had been riding the who trip broke down halfway up a hill. Our van driver slowly backed down the hill to the side of the road and parked there. We quickly got together and started walking the rest of the way to the woodcarvers because we still needed to get our wood. When we walked back to the van, a man approached us and started to explain how he and a few other men were growing different food plants including coconuts to help feed those who needed food. He then offered us coconuts from his trees, which we accepted after making sure that they were safe to eat and not infused with unpurified water (they do that with watermelon in the area). We then were picked up by taxis that T. Kwesi sent for us. This kind of event would normally make me stressed and uncomfortable because I am not the type of person who is able to go with the flow very easily, I usually like everything planned out and to go with the plan. However, this trip helped me understand that there are many things, such as red vans, that don’t go as planned and that you need to often think on the spot.

We finished up our trip in Accra where we went shopping in an craft market as well as going to W.E.B. Dubois’ house. We then relaxed at our hotel for the rest of the evening preparing ourselves for a very long flight home. Thankfully, there were no screaming kids on the flight home unlike our flight to Ghana.

This trip has allowed me to grow as a person and create lasting memories that I will be able to share with so many people in the future. I hope to return to Ghana at some point in the near future (study abroad in college maybe?) to continue the work that I started in the two brief weeks.

Day 14, March 17, 2016

The day began with some yoga, led by the yogi-in-training, Sam. After yoga, we did our daily chores and ate an amazing breakfast. I think this might have been the best all week! From that moment, I could already tell we were going to have a fantastic day. As soon as we were all cleaned up, we got in the car and headed to the resort where we would be zip lining. Once we arrived, we were shocked by the amazing view of the Mexican Grand Canyon. From where we were, 800 feet above, we could see the river flowing and the birds soaring majestically over the valley. Then we went with our guide up a tower, about 40 feet, to get clipped onto the line. Personally, this was a great challenge, as being afraid of heights,  I was not sure I could trust the equipment. Eventually though, I realized that we must run towards our fears; conquer the beast! And so we did; capturing an amazing view and serene voyage. After the zipline, we hung out in the restaurant area of the resort and played some cards. Eventually we were ready to head back, and enjoyed a nice car ride back to Las Cañadas. When we got back, we were able to eat a nice lunch, nap, and get ready to set off on our campout. We took a nice little hike to the campsite, where we discovered that Angel had built us an impressive canopy in case it rained. Once it got dark, we built a fire and were able to eat some burritos and roasted potatoes. Shortly thereafter, we took a nap and then T. Alan stopped by to share a moving story with the group. We then gazed at the stars, admired the bright-lit moon, and talked for a bit. Unfortunately, it was hard to sleep well, since the bugs, birds, coyotes, cows, and the hard ground made the night slightly uncomfortable. Still, it was a night to remember!




Creative Writing Away From Home

So today I showed a family member some of what I’ve accomplished over the last few weeks. As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve always been a little apprehensive about showing people – even family members or close friends – my work, and this time was no different. I sat on the couch while she read it (a poem),  fiddling anxiously with a loose thread trailing from one of the cushions. I studied her face, trying to interpret her expressions. Would she like it? Was it even any good? Was I a good writer?

I guess these are some of the questions that lurk at the back of the mind of every writer.  For me, at least, my writing is always inextricably linked to me as a person – criticism can sometimes feel like a personal dig. It’s jarring to think that a piece of work that is important to you, that you’ve worked tirelessly on night after night, week after week, could be harshly criticized or even completely dismissed by someone.

In this case, my family member actually did end up liking the poem I’d showed her. She had a few criticisms, or “personal preferences,” as she called them – pointing out a line she thought had an excessive amount of adjectives, for one, or suggesting I clarify an obscure reference – but ultimately her reaction was positive.

These last few weeks have been alternately frustrating and illuminating. It was hard to jump back into writing at first – writing for myself, that is, not for any class or scholarship contest or club commitment – and I suffered from a bad bout of writer’s block for the first few days back home. But this time has also allowed me to articulate my thoughts and feelings regarding writing in a much more concrete way. I can now speak to the fact that I love that poetry, as a medium, relies just as much on the sound of its words and phrases and how they link together as it does its substance. I love that writing short scenes – vignettes- allows you to capture a range of emotions in what is essentially a quick snapshot of your life. Writing is, and will be, always an integral part of who I am, and I’m happy I got the chance to do something that I’m truly passionate about during my senior project.

Update – Creative Writing

After a while spent suffering from writer’s block, I think I’ve finally found my stride. I’ve been fairly prolific for these past few days, and I’m happy with what I’ve produced, although I have yet to show it to anyone else. (I’ve always been kind of self-conscious about letting other people read my work, so this is something I’ll need to get over if I want to seriously consider a career involving writing.)  Most of my work so far has focused on poetry, but I’m hoping to expand my efforts in the next few days to include short stories and maybe even vignettes. A lot of my typical themes are popping up again – mythology, usually Greek mythology, memory, etc. I spent most of Tuesday and Wednesday writing drafts, and today (Thursday) I focused on editing – cutting unnecessary words, changing line breaks, adding clarifying details, that sort of thing. I’ll probably continue editing into tomorrow and the next day and then start on something new after that.

Kitten update

I am convinced this is the life. I wake up at 9 am, make myself breakfast, do yoga and then go off to the SPCA. This project has taught me a lot about the world. For example, if you don’t know where you are going just keep going straight. If you have a GPS it will be okay.

This project has taught me a lot about the world. For example, if you don’t know where you are going just keep going straight. If you have a GPS it will be okay. Also, if there is a sharp turn ahead slow down or you will feel like you are going to die.

The best moments at the SPCA are when people come together to love the cats. Every person who works there or volunteers have a favorite cat, and we try to give that cat as much love without neglecting the others. I am a victim of this. On cat named Meowth is favorite, but she doesn’t match my personality at all. Her agility and playfulness make me so happy I cannot help myself.

While I’ve volunteered there, at least, 4 cats have been adopted. Most of the time I was already gone but it still made me so happy. I did not know what personal bonds I would create with theses loving souls, but I am so glad I did. Even if they get adopted or relocated the moments I had with them make my day.

Working here has also made me sad. So many of the cats are lovable and sweet. Even the most “chill” have a purr of gold. I wish I could take them home with me, but I’ll settle for volunteering at the moment.

Until next time,

Rosie Dear

Day 4- Monday, March 7, 2016

Today was a very soil-centric day! Last night after Dahoon’s post we watched the Documentary Dirt, an excellent film about the importance of dirt to our planet, food, ecosystems, and personal lives. When I woke up this morning, the hills were covered in clouds. I’ve been living in a little outdoor loft, so watching the sunrise is always beautiful. We did eight sun salutations with Teacher Alan, meditated while listening to the birds and chickens, and then did our chores.

Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 3.09.10 PM.pngWe have ten chicks right now and they are adorable! They’ve been eating multiple bowls of feed a day and are growing rapidly!

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After chores we returned to the house and ate breakfast cooked by Gloria and Alba, two amazing Mexican cooks. They brought their granddaughter/daughter Maite with them today as well and gave us the gift of amazing eggs, tortillas, and beans.

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After breakfast we walked down to a field to meet Angel the farm manager and learned that we were going to be making dirt! We used machetes to cut down an entire row of Flemingia. Flemingia is a windbreaker plant that is cut-and-come again, meaning that even though we cut it down it will grow back in the future. It is especially important because it is a nitrogen fixer. Once it is cut, all of the nutrients in the roots go into the soil, while the top pieces are used in compost piles.

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After we cut the Flemingia, we met Mauricio and Eduardo, two campesinos about our age. We all worked together to build square compost lasagnas with layers of Flemingia, dried grass, earth and water. We added humus from previous years’ compost piles to introduce bacteria. This was the most beautiful compost I have seen it my life! I was paired with Eduardo, so we had a conversation about compost and compared the fertility of the soil at Westtown Mini Farm, the soil at other farms I have worked on, and the soil at Las Cañadas. I was so impressed by Eduardo’s physical strength, kindness, and ability as a farmer. It was great to practice speaking Spanish and make some new friends.

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While we were composting, Eric Toensmeier walked by! He is a visiting lecturer at Yale School of forestry, and he talked to us about carbon sequestration, compost, and nitrogen cycling. You should look him up! Here is the link:

After the compost project, we went down to the bamboo bridge to go for a swim. Teacher Alan was a very impressive swimmer because he just jumped right into the cold water. The rest of us were a bit more hesitant. I was attempting to boulder on the side of the pool when a rock broke and I fell in! I am happy to say that this was my first (pretty shallow) deep water soloing fall as a rock climber. I also found some roots to climb on. The water was cold, but refreshing. After our swim we went back up to the house and ate some amazing rice, salad, beans, and malanga patties prepared by Alba and Gloria. We took a short nap, and then it was time for Teacher Alan and I to catch the chicken!

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Our dear chicken friend has been eating ants in the blackberry patch for several days. It was time for her to come back to the coop, so Teacher Alan and I headed down the hill to collect her. She did not want to come back, however. We spent twenty minutes herding her around through the blackberry rows. The bushes were prickly, so I nudged her with a stick to chase her to the corners of the field. After a very long time Teacher Alan finally grabbed her and I carried her up to the coop. We decided to name her Zarzamora for her blackberry-like personality. After the chicken adventure, we all went on a tour of the sewage system.

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The sewage system is made of compost! We learned about several different types of composting toilets, as well as the mechanical, solar and wind laundry system. All of these processes use zero fossil fuels, while the sewage actually contributes to the soil! Every factor of the process is taken into account, from air circulation, to solids and urine separation and fly capture. I was completely blown away by the beauty of these processes. After our tour and a short walk through the food forest, we returned to the house and watched an amazing TED Talk about humus. We learned about the importance of living soil and how it can help our nutrition, reduce climate change, filter and store water, hold the soil together, and sequester carbon. We discussed steps that individuals and communities can take to promote humus cultivation and solve climate change, and how we can apply these ideas to our own lives. If you haven’t seen this TED Talk, you definitely should! Here is the link: Overall, today we learned a ton about humus and living soil, including how to create it, integrate it with the waste from our bodies, and how it could save the Earth. I can’t wait to see how we can use this knowledge to improve sustainability at Westtown. Thanks so much for reading and remember: compost is important!








Mexico Day 3- Sunday, March 6, 2016

Today was Teacher Paula’s birthday! We woke up a bit later than usual at 7:30 am and Teacher Alan leaded us in singing happy birthday outside of Teacher Paula’s window to wake her up.                                                             Screen Shot 2016-03-07 at 8.20.48 AMAfterwards, we went about our daily chores and got ready for breakfast. On top of getting ready for breakfast, Sam prepared some wonderful Banana bread inside the solar oven for T. Paula’s birthday. I’m very excited to eat some of that later tonight.

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For breakfast, Mekhi made most of the very delicious pancakes, which we had with either honey or store bought “maple syrup”. Along with the pancakes we had the usual yogurt with fruit and granola. After clearing up our breakfast meal, we devoted the earlier half of the day to learning more about the Grey Water system which, in short, filters the grease from the water so that the water we use in the house can be recycled for the plants and local vegetation. First, we added more rocks to the one that was just built down by the tiny house. Then, we left the sinks on in the tiny house so that the Grey Water system would fill up with water. While waiting, we hiked down to the creek where we crossed the bamboo bridge that was built in 2005 by the senior project that came.

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Down by the creek we discovered a pump that was bringing the water from the creek up to the house we were living in. The pump operated by using the power of a water wheel which powered two pistons, which pumped the water up the mountain to a very large water container which we also hiked up to.

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At that point, the water traveled through pipes down to the house. After learning about how we were getting our water, we looked at the Grey Water system already in place up at the larger house. Not only did we get to see what a complete system looked like, but we also got to harvest some water lilies from the older system to bring down and plant in the newer system. The water lilies are placed in each tank to filter the soap and grease from the water that we use in the house.Screen Shot 2016-03-07 at 8.25.47 AM.png

After learning about the Grey Water system, we came back up to the house and had lunch. For lunch we had delicious spaghetti, which put us all to sleep for a quick nap. After the nap, we set out on a hike to the original cloud forest, which was about 30 minutes away. About 10 minutes into the hike, we encountered Vigo, a neighborhood dog who then followed us on the entire hike and back. We enjoyed his company very much.Screen Shot 2016-03-07 at 8.24.51 AM.png

When we got to the original cloud forest, it was amazing to see almost untouched wildlife. We crossed swaying bridges and several of us slipped multiple times. The hike was great, as we took in the beautiful surroundings in the company of good friends.

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Once we hiked through the cloud forest and hit the road, we turned back around and returned back home. Now as I am writing this, I can’t wait to eat the delicious dinner and sleep like a baby until tomorrow morning.


Mexico Day 2- Saturday, March 5, 2016

The day began at 7:00 AM with the daily chores. Since it was the first morning here, we did a walk-through of each of the morning jobs. First we went through the chicken coop—let them out, gave more food, changed the water, and swept up. Then we went to the geese coop—let them out, gave them food and changed the water, as well. The geese are definitely a lot less friendly. Afterwards, we went to the mushroom log area where it was my job to remove the logs harvesting in the water and replace them with new logs. Mushrooms are a perfect crop for this humid climate. Finally, we harvested a plethora of veggies, for the salad that we planned to eat for lunch and dinner. At this point, we finally got to eat breakfast, which was beans, Mexican styled eggs, and tortillas. The food, of course was delicious.



After breakfast we headed down to the mushroom log area, once again, to rearrange and label some of the log pieces. We established a nice system where some people wrote labels, some nailed the labels, and some carried them over to the new location.

After the logs, we went over to work on the grey water system. On our way we crossed several leaf cutter ants super highways. Take a look. Ants, it turns out, were the first farmers – harvesting leaves to create compost to grow mushrooms in the underground homes!

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One of our themes this week is appropriate technology. One of the buildings we are staying in (Sam is there now) has been recently build. We are working on the grey water treatment system for this house. This task consisted of finding fairly large rocks and placing them in a series of 4 circular ferro-cement containers. Once completed, water from the kitchen sink and the shower will flow through these containers. The rocks we gathered and put in the containers plus the aquatic plants (which we will add later) will serve as a filter. The end result will be re-use of the household’s waste water to either water fruit trees or return harmlessly to the soil.IMG_1877.jpgEventually we ventured over to some neighbors who had the coolest house that I have ever seen. This savvy house was built in a way so that there were plants growing straight out of the ground right inside the house. In the photo you can see us in the center of this home. Hopefully we will get the opportunity to visit again.Edible House Visit.jpg

On our way back we picked up more rocks and then we had lunch. We ate some more tamales and the beans with tortillas. After lunch we had the opportunity to rest for a little and soon thereafter, we went on a five kilometer hike in a recovering 250 acre patch of cloud forest. It was only the four of us guys, machetes in hand, trekking though the woods. It was a beautiful sight, with many hills, bridges, and trees. After the hike we returned, put the chickens and geese in their coops and got ready for dinner.


I also tried building the fire to take a warm shower, and it didn’t work out well; the wood just didn’t catch (high humidity makes fire starting a real challenge in this climate). Sam eventually got it, and I was looking forward to that shower. We ate dinner first, which was customized pizza in a wood burning barrel oven and the huge salad assortment. After dinner I got to take that shower and then we did an interesting exercise to figure out some goals for the week. After a long day, I sure am ready to head to sleep, ready for tomorrow.


Mexico Day 1 – Friday

Early morning for the Mexico crew – we ended up packing the van and leaving Westtown by 4ish. A smooth drive later, we were at the airport. We got through security, found our gate, got a quick breakfast, and boarded our plan to ATL. Other than a crying baby, the flight was smooth and gave us a chance to catch up on sleep. Once in Atlanta, we literally walked straight on to our next flight; no time to sit down or get food. We got on the plane, and were off to Mexico.Screen Shot 2016-03-07 at 8.37.55 AM.png

Once in Mexico, we made it through customs (barely) and exchanged our money so we could buy a quick lunch in the airport.

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After eating we got into a taxi that took us to a bus station. That taxi ride was our first real look at the city, although the view from above provided us with a preliminary glimpse of its beauty.

Screen Shot 2016-03-07 at 8.38.37 AM After the taxi we had a short walk through the bus station before reaching our bus. After a few minutes, we were off to Huatusco. 5 ½ hours later, we were at our rally point, waiting to meet up with Alan. After a few strokes of luck, we were reunited, and were off to our new home. Before reaching home, we made a stop to a local friend to pick up forty or so tamales.

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We went through some gates, and made it home in complete darkness. After moving all of our stuff in, we went to the back of the mini house and got acquainted with the tamales. After dinner we were invited to and went on a short, back-of-the-truck ride to the middle of our campus, where we took off on foot and went a short but very sweet night hike through our new home.Screen Shot 2016-03-07 at 8.38.56 AM                            After 20 hours of traveling

After getting back, we laid down together outside with the sky over us. We took deep breaths and mentally prepared ourselves to truly give this week our all. We shouted to the world, “ITS OKAY TO BE FULLY ALIVE”. The silence after this may have been more powerful than the shouting itself. With that, we were off for our first nights rest with our minds set on the day to come.