A paper collage showing a dream-like landscape where ribbons of rose petals spiral around a rock formation.
Image credit: Yannick Lowery / www.severepaper.com

Editors’ note: This piece is from Nonprofit Quarterly Magazine’s fall 2023 issue, “How Do We Create Home in the Future? Reshaping the Way We Live in the Midst of Climate Crisis.”

Did she really know anything about Sanctuary?

William F. Nolan, Logan’s Run

“Are we doing this or not?” Daisy stood with one leg on the shovel, scrutinizing its homemade design while waiting for her sister. Her impatience increased, since she was already starting to sweat in the open sun and they hadn’t even begun the work.

“Did you hear me, Ahlia?” She didn’t need to be looking through the VR headset her sister was glued to in order to experience her sister’s euphoria or to know what she was watching. The images and information seemed to just be there, like a faded dream in her own memory. She gave Ahlia an elbow jab, getting no response. “HELLO!”

When Ahlia was unresponsive again, Daisy did what anyone in her situation would do and got to work, forcing Ahlia along without a choice.

“Hey!” Ahlia chimed. “That’s not fair!” The movement of their shared body made the projection shaky, jolting her mind out of the green paradise she was visually experiencing. “I wasn’t finished!”

Daisy stopped, not because her sister asked her to but so she could inspect the end of the shovel and fix the ties that had already come loose after only a few jabs. Made from cutting a half-moon shape from an abandoned, super-durable plastic detergent bottle nano-glued to a broken broom handle and reinforced with plastic ties, it should have been sturdy enough to turn the compacted soil. A few adjustments and…Daisy stopped midmotion, feeling the lightness and joy coming from Ahlia’s experience. “We can have this here, Ahlia, if you’ll help me.”

“I already have the same thing—why do I need more?”

Daisy closed her eyes, seeing and feeling what Ahlia was seeing and feeling.

…created to offer a retreat of natural beauty and a harmonious setting for human, plant, and animal alike, the Lunar Lake Sanctuary is set apart from the hubbub and drill of city life, offering a steady stream of peace accompanied by the occasional notes of the carillon playing from the fountain tower. It’s your time now for instant renewal…a place where you can get lost in the meditation of nature, to find yourself…

The view was enticing, causing Daisy to linger a little longer—long enough to experience the green trees bowed over a summer country road, the birdsong from unseen places, the gushing waterfall beside the bell tower flowing into a pond that branched off to a serene stream, where along the bank a mother fox drank and her babies played.

Daisy shook off the feeling. “I know what you’re doing!”

Ahlia chided, “You can’t blame me for not wanting to waste my whole day working. It’s so hot out here! Where’s the climate control, huh? Can we go?”

Daisy forced their body into a crouch so she could touch the ground.

“I meant inside!”

Daisy ignored her sister, examining the open space. Sure, right now it was brown and flat, without a tree in sight for as far as she could see—or at least up to their apartment building, and all the others circling the empty plot, a half-mile or so away. Deemed a toxic brownfield, steeped with contamination from decades of tech garbage and now lifeless, nobody came here—burial plots were deemed too good for this space. Who owned it, no one knew anymore, which made it free, in her mind. And that made it valuable to opportunity.

“Will you please just look and see what I see.” Daisy tried to impose her own imagination, big and bold enough—and with equal excitement—so that Ahlia might be impacted in the same way as the VR scenery and be inclined to join her in the undertaking. It would be easier this way, to work together on the same thing rather than in conflict. At least then she’d have one person on her side. Right now, anyone she told about creating a sanctuary said she was crazy: “Who makes a garden outside? Who goes outside—period!?”

“I do,” she told her friends, determined.

Ever since Daisy was a little girl and had read a novel about a wizard who put a seed in the ground and made it grow into a fruit tree, she had wanted to do it herself. She’d don a cloak with sewn-on stars and raise a magic wand, pretending she had the magic to make an apple. But when she grew up and learned in school that it wasn’t magic at all but something she could actually do—like, for real—it inserted a lifelong dream to become a wizard, or rather a fortimor: one who fortifies a relationship—a cooperator with the earth.

“See, over here we can build a tower, just like yours.” Next, Daisy pointed toward the south. “Here we can build a pond and make a stream in a big circle.” She turned them around, hoping Ahlia would give up the imaginary paradise and envision the real one they could make together. “We can plant a garden and trees…”

“Um…yeah, it will take a lifetime for all that to happen, Daisy—and besides, where are you getting the trees and plants, or the material for this tower? You couldn’t even find a shovel to buy and had to make one!”

Daisy was optimistic. “We’ll think of something.”

“Oh, right, we’ll just listen for the answer,” Ahlia scoffed. “Like that will work.” 

“How would you know—you’ve never even tried to talk to the earth!”

“But you have.”

Daisy frowned, her failure thrown back at her. “It doesn’t mean it can’t happen…” She felt the soil with her fingertips, instinctively talking to it, asking for help, to be shown what to do…it wasn’t something she’d read or heard, but something inherent, a thing she knew deep in her core…even though nothing ever came of it.

She glanced out at the dusty brown field, her resolve wavering. “Maybe you’re right…maybe it is all just a fantasy.” She tossed the shovel aside. “You win.”

“Oh, thank goodness.” Ahlia took off the headset. “I’m starting to get a slimy film all over my arms…do you think we’re coming down with something?”

Daisy didn’t answer, curtailing her tears. 

“Wow, it’s so bright—do you feel that?” 


Ahlia shrugged. “It’s soothing and cozy-warm all over me…kinda like when we put on our warm laundry.” 

Daisy placed her forearm side by side with her sister’s; they watched and waited.

“And my face too. It’s touching me there!”

“Yes, Sister, I feel it, even without you.” Daisy chuckled. “You don’t know what’s causing it?”

“No, I mean…” Ahlia tried to explain. “With VR, I’ve felt warm inside, but never on the outside like this.” 

“It’s the sun, Ahlia.” Daisy tilted her sister’s chin upward. “It’s nice, right?”

“Pfft! I knew that!” She smiled. “Ooh, did you feel that? What was it? It kind of brushed against my skin…”

“That’s the wind.” She took Ahlia’s hand in hers and held it high, fingers open wide. “People used to play out here all the time and probably didn’t even notice the sun and wind—or maybe they took it for granted… look, you can see the moon.”

“That white splotchy thing?” Ahlia’s face scrunched up. “I thought it only came out at night!” 

“It’s as much part of the day as the sun is—you never noticed?”

“I thought it was prettier. I mean, I’ve seen pictures, but they’re always of the Luna Lake Sanctuary, so I just assumed it’d be…you know…updated by now. More green, anyways.”

“There’s more, Ahlia.” Daisy pointed to the ground. They lowered together, allowing Daisy to put a handful of dirt into her sister’s palm. “It’s brittle, but we can change that.”

“Do you really think so?”

“We just need to listen. We can’t decide for it—that’s why it’s like this: someone a long time ago thought they knew better.”

“What will it sound like?” Ahlia leaned forward, putting an ear to the ground, jolting Daisy with her. 

“Oh, Sister, you don’t need to do that—it’s inside you. A feeling will come. But you’ll try it with me?” Daisy felt anxious asking, the attention slightly overwhelming. “Maybe together it will work this time.” 

“What do I have to do?”

“We just need to concentrate in earnest…” With their knees in the dirt, Daisy lifted her hands to her heart; Ahlia did the same. With eyes closed, they stilled their minds.

“Is something going to happen?” Ahlia asked innocently. “Will there be a picture soon?”

“No,” Daisy whispered. “Just listen to the silence.”

“But silence doesn’t have a sound…” 

“No? Shh…


It could’ve been a few minutes…an hour…a half-day…passing in the infinite present moment, shaping the next unfolding instant, as the ground and sky merged and the wind swept a soundless breeze around the sisters. United in stillness, they felt a unifying presence of peace that was whole and aware.


“Did you hear it?” Ahlia elbowed her sister.

“I heard it too!” Daisy scooped up the makeshift shovel, feeling an instinctive urge to dig. Ahlia grabbed the other. Together, they began to break up the hard ground.

When the shovels broke, they got on their knees and used the plastic scoop, lifting the dirt, the decades-old tech litter, the occasional pebble or rock until they had a good-sized hole.

“Now what?” Ahlia asked, catching her breath.

“I don’t know.” Daisy was sweating—they both were—and watched the drops fall and color the dirt. “Let me try again.” She put her hand to her heart.

“Anything?” Ahlia asked. “I’m so hungry…so thirsty…” 

“I can’t concentrate with you blabbing on!”

Ahlia licked her lips. “Mmm, if we only had an apple…that would do it. Oh! If only we had an apple from a tree growing right from this very hole!”

Daisy was halfway to jumping, inspired, tugging her sister along. “That’s it, Ahlia! Do you hear it! We need an apple…and then…I see it! We need to make five holes—all in a circle, one for each seed…then we water!”

“We’re going to grow apples on top of spent cellphones and broken monitors? Maybe poisonous ones…if they grow!”

Daisy saw her point. “But that’s what I heard; so we need to do it.” 

“Still, it’s a lot of work, Sister, especially if nothing comes of it.” 

Daisy sighed, disappointed.

“But I’ll do it for you, if that’s what you want.” 

Daisy hugged her sister, excited.

“But when we’re done, if it’s a failure, you have to come with me to the Lunar Lake Sanctuary, and no complaining—deal?”

They shook on it.

At their apartment on the 100th floor, they grabbed a few cooking utensils—a knife, spatula, big spoons—to dig the ground and holes; they also took an apple, one grown half a world away in an underground lab under sun lamps. Before returning, they tried to see the hole they’d made, but the vacant ground looked all the same from so far away.

Back at the brownfield, the sisters worked together, digging four more holes, creating a circle, piling up the garbage they’d uprooted in another area farther away. When they were done, they cut the apple in slices, crosswise, observing the tiny star and seeds within. Daisy placed one in a hole and Ahlia covered it with dirt, and then Daisy watered it. They continued to take turns—placing, covering, watering.

As they finished, Ahlia asked. “How do we know if it’ll work?” 

“Do you remember the story I loved as a child?”

“How can I forget? You read it every day for years—I couldn’t get away from it!” Ahlia chuckled. 

“Haha.” Daisy continued. “If you recall, the wizard trusted she was being guided. That was the magic—her willingness to believe in the nature spirit around her, even though she couldn’t touch it or feel it.” 

“Then our work is done, Sister.”

They stood back, appreciating their hard work and reminiscing on certain moments of difficulty that now seemed worth it. It made them smile to see the ground covered with their many footprints, making it appear full of life and movement.

“What next?” Ahlia asked, eager.

Daisy checked her heart, touching-in one last time. But she felt good—complete. “Now we wait until we hear what we should do next.”

Many weeks transpired before the sisters heard anything deep within them. Like the fortimors of old, an inner voice revealed itself—it was unmistakable, a silent silence that felt whole and aware, so different from the usual busyness of their own thoughts.

“You heard it, Sister?” Daisy asked, already one step toward the window of their apartment. They looked out toward the brownfield, surprised to see a crowd of people gathered. “Oh no! What are they doing?”

“Our seeds! We need to hurry!”

The sisters went as fast as they could to the elevator, then began the half-mile walk, noticing the unusual amount of people outside on the sidewalks, all heading in the direction of the brownfield.

“Why so many people out today?” Ahlia seemed worried.

“I don’t know.” Daisy asked a man next to her where he was going.

The man shrugged, saying, “I don’t know exactly; I just woke up and something told me I needed to go for a walk out here—first time since I was a boy. But here I am! Not as bad as I’d expected, this outside business.”

Once at the brownfield, Daisy and Ahlia navigated the circle of people until they reached the center of the spectacle: hardly two inches in height, their apple trees had sprouted!

People spoke with excitement, speculating about what they were and how they’d gotten there. Daisy wanted to take the credit but something told her not to…

Let them believe it’s magic—because it is magic!

Not the unexplained kind, Daisy realized, but the stuff born of cooperation—when union and harmony reigned in the hearts and minds of humans, enough to create with the earth rather than against it, anything could happen. It was like that when she was at odds with her sister: two wills in the same body trying to go in opposite directions. But when they were patient, able to hear the needs of the other, they came into balance. The appearance of the trees was evidence of it.

“Grow!” someone called out, as if to encourage the tiny saplings. 

“Hey, that’s not a bad idea,” said another.

Grow, grow, grow!

“Like this,” said Daisy, taking the lead, extending her hand out to the person beside her, then to Ahlia, who took the hand of the person next to her, until there was a communal circle of people around the tiny trees. “Just feel love and growth in your heart,” she told them. “No need to force anything, or to command the trees to grow—we can support them just by emanating our love and joy, so they know they are supported. They will do the rest.”

“Come on, let’s try it!” Ahlia encouraged.

At first, there was a lot of chatter and debate about it; some even left, not understanding what all the fuss was about—we’ve got trees on the VRTV! But those who remained stood for some time under the sun and moon, emanating a bright joy and warmth, as evidenced by the smiles on their faces.

As Daisy raised her own vibrational energy—higher and higher it seemed to go, like one of those olden-time kites that would get caught on the wind—a sensation of wholeness overcame her, one that felt like she’d become as bright as the sun rather than only a spectator of it. Gradually, she let go, uninhibited, peaking in bliss and effervescent euphoria.

When she opened her eyes, Daisy expected to see everyone around her experiencing the same thing. But to her surprise, the lot was empty. The crowd had moved on when the saplings failed to “do anything.”

“I guess this means you won, Sister.” Daisy sighed. “We can go now to the Luna Lake Sanctuary, no complaints—I might even enjoy it.” She looked at Ahlia, expecting her to be hooked to her VR already. Instead, she was astonished to see her sister smiling, face wet with tears, reaching out to hug Daisy, saying, “You were right!”

Puzzled, Daisy asked, “What was I right about?”

“Everything, Sister!” She began to sit, urging Daisy to sit also.

“I don’t understand. Nothing happened—people think our little trees are going to shoot up to the sky instantly, but it takes time.”

“I know, and I don’t want to miss any part of it!” Ahlia was still smiling, watching the trees. “Did you feel it, Sister? I could feel the life force of the saplings, just like I can feel you, like we are one BIG family!”

“But don’t you want to go inside? It’s getting hot.”

“Oh no, I want to stay right here.”

“What about going to the Luna Lake Sanctuary?” 

Ahlia shook her head. “This is far more interesting.”

Daisy felt a new kind of peace inside her, emanating from her sister’s experience watching the trees, and smiled, allowing herself to feel it too, this strange new congruity.

Around them, a few people had returned, gathering to watch the saplings grow. Some put down a blanket and had a picnic; two children kicked an old computer mouse back and forth. A couple more joined in, until a new game was underway.

“See, Sister,” Ahlia began, “all is not lost. Soon, this will all be green again. We just need to keep listening…”

“I see it, Sister.” Daisy smiled, lacing her arm around Ahlia’s. “We only need to believe.”