Justine Des Jardins de Chartres feels she is a has-been artist. She is alone in her cottage on an island in a lake in Maine, when she receives a message that Desiree Grabowski, a friend from high school long ago, had just killed herself. Desiree was a talented artist, but she came from an abusive background, and as an adult lost herself in drug addiction. Justine has been so absorbed in her artistic career that she lost track of Desiree after they graduated from high school. Justine blames herself for Desiree’s suicide. Their fellow classmate Julia Fonseca relays a mysterious message from Desiree to Justine, that their oak grove didn’t save her.
Justine goes to Desiree’s wake in the rundown Syracuse suburb of Podunk City, where Desiree lived and died. After the wake, Justine discovers that their oak grove is still intact. She is amazed to see such a pristine and spiritual place still alive in such a desolate area. Justine remembers how Desiree believed that the grove is an ancient sacred site, the site of a vanished temple of a lost ancient civilization.
Ila Stratford, Justine’s friend and commander of Earth settlements on Saturn’s moon Titan, tells Justine how she met an artist from a ruined world five hundred light years away. This alien artist, whom Ila calls Aelia, had been to Earth thousands of years before, just after Atlantis fell. According to Aelia, refugees from Atlantis built the most beautiful of all human temples in what is now the Podunk City Oak Grove, and this structure matches what Desiree drew.
Justine feels compelled to create an art project about the oak grove and the temple, to somehow collaborate with this artist from another world to bring forth a vision of the sacred connection of our imperiled Earth to the cosmos that allows Earth and all on it to exist. She feels that this task is entirely beyond her limited ability, but she must do it to honor Desiree’s memory. This will be the first ever human-alien artistic collaboration. Maybe through this project, Earth will avoid the fate of Aelia’s home world.
And maybe Justine’s troubled soul will be healed.