Garden Party

A butterfly searches for food on a buddleia flower, on August 4, 2013 in Godewaersvelde, northern France. Populations of gras
A butterfly searches for food on a buddleia flower, on August 4, 2013 in Godewaersvelde, northern France. Populations of grassland butterflies declined almost fifty percent between 1990 and 2011, according to a report from the European Environment Agency (EEA) published on July 23, 2013. AFP PHOTO / PHILIPPE HUGUEN (Photo credit should read PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images)

I have been ill, and this summer my world has shrunk to a plot of dirt in a backyard that does not belong to me. The seeds my sister suggestively places in my hand are not mine, either; she buys them at yard sales and flea markets. One day, a perimeter of string appears along a patch of dried weeds. Even the dream is hers.

Everything is so simple when you've been sick. To be outside wearing the sun as a shawl when your heart has been so cold for so long is a gift. To think of the ground as a womb and no longer as a grave is a relief. Kneeling to pull weeds and sift the soil becomes each day an excuse to pray. Night crawlers glisten in my fingers fiery red and as valuable as rubies, eyeless and innocent of their importance to prepare the earth for the growing of plants. I watch robins pulling them from deep, secret places beyond the garden's edge, sensing the movements of the worms underground with their feet. I knead dirt for hours like a baker working dough.

Each seed, sorted out on paper with shaking fingers, scoured white and soaked overnight in tap water, goes into the soil as a promise to myself that I will be around to see it sprout. In the ensuing days in my rumpled clothes, I sometimes play scarecrow, scolding the starlings that threaten to forage in the black earth yet admiring their opulent iridescence just the same. I show them my blisters from hauling compost and yielding the hoe, asking for mercy. When it storms one day, I sprawl myself over my fragile new crop of pumpkin seedlings, shielding them from sparkling hailstones and laughing into the high winds.

I find myself thinking that a seed is nothing more than a dormant idea. But I feel more like a magician than an inventor as I behold the alchemy of water, soil and sun acting on every small kernel. Two paired, succulent leaves appear from each, gain courage from the ground they have rooted in, become a vine that begins to snake its way across the garden plot. What was once as barren as a moonscape has metamorphosed into a lush, juicy tangle of heart-shaped leaves and coral-colored flowers that shine like stained glass in the morning light. Each lasts a day, lifting itself to the sun, open-throated to the traffic of drunken bumblebees, humble houseflies and feathery white moths gone gold from the pollen. I can feel the thrumming of their busy lives in vibrations through the soles of my shoes.

Butterflies, thick as confetti, float there each day -- sometimes I wear them in my hair. I am amazed at the music a gentle rain can make on the wide leaves, and I feel tender toward the wrens that bathe in the water that pools in the hollow heart of each one. I have stood there in the garden with the new dog at nightfall, her pale fur sequined with fireflies, watching bats swoop and listening to the scurryings of mice while the blue moonlight licks at the round white fruit that might someday sit lit in a window on Halloween night. And I feel hope for the future in a way I have not for a long, long time.

I crouch among the pumpkins with coffee at sunrise. To my surprise, a hummingbird appears at the spider's web strung along the fence, to pick jeweled insects from the gossamer netting. And I am acutely aware of a sense of self-celebration in the uproar of wings against flower petals and the breeze moving under and around leaves and the pulse of fuel beating along the vines, and I know it's just nature enjoying itself but I cannot help, nonetheless, somehow, to feel with a great sense of gratitude, that the party is, at least partly, for me.