A Night in the Garden


Roots and Refuge Blog | A Night in the Garden | Jessica Sowards' Garden

I sat in the garden until after dark tonight. I rarely do. Kids need dinner and baths. The laundry needs to be moved over and the kitchen needs to be cleaned up. But tonight, I stayed out and left the rest to wait.


The air hung thick, like some heavy and suffocating thing. Like a wool blanket. Like the tar they used to fill the cracks of the street in front of my childhood home. I pulled a chair there, right in the middle of the garden. Surrounded by tomato plants heavy with unripe fruit and, sunflowers flirting with the idea of opening, I just laid my head back and shut my eyes and let the weight of a summer evening find every crevice of my skin.


During the day, our alpacas raise their funny little voices at everything they think is a threat, which is pretty much everything. The goats bleat and scream, whatever they think they have to do to get us to slip them a treat. The dogs bark and the roosters crow and the sound of our domesticated farm fills the air. At night though, the farm settles to a hum and the forest surrounding it begins to sing. Tonight in the garden, the din of the wild things grew so loud, my bones vibrated with it. Every year, by Christmas, I forget the deafening sound of cicadas. So on summer nights like this one, I try to let it etch itself into my mind a little deeper.


I read an article once about the electrical currents flowing through our bodies and how it does our brain good to be barefoot on the earth. They called it grounding. I remembered it tonight, slipped my shoes off and felt the ground come in contact with my soles. Even the soil was hot tonight.


Sweat beaded up along my forehead and as the sky turned a deeper grey-blue, the fireflies came out. First, there were just a few, blinking and bobbing about the garden in some silent game of Marco Polo. I picked up my camera to try to capture them on video and then just as quickly, I tossed it on the ground, just out of my reach. Sometimes it takes a choice to overcome the habit of videoing everything, but sometimes a choice is necessary to just live a moment instead of preserving it.


The moments dragged on. Me, barefoot in a broken camp chair in the middle of a garden, with the air sticking in my throat like a bite of food too big to comfortably swallow, with my hair curling in a frizzy halo around my sweaty brow and with a few glowing bugs dancing around me. There, with my eyes closed and my palms lifted to heaven, my heart uttered a prayer of thanks for which words fell utterly short of encompassing.


Sometimes I think when we plant ourselves in these moments, refusing to let them slip by, refusing to do anything but awe at them, permission is granted. Like a lover blossoms beneath the gaze of her adoring lover, creation responds to one who looks at it and sees the fingerprints of God.


Then, with my camera abandoned and my to-do list forgotten, I opened my eyes and gasped. The fireflies’ game of Marco Polo was no longer just for a lonely few. The trees seemed littered with them, almost as if they were strung with twinkle lights, moving and weaving spots of sunshine. Hundreds of them, thousands maybe. The clouds in the distance flashed and flickered. A storm was coming and lightning strobed in the distance. Electricity zipped through the clouds the way it does on southern summer nights. The air was like a wall, 90 degrees at least and unmoving. I waited, breathing shallowly, afraid to disturb the magic of the light show, slipping out of my chair, and rolling onto my back to admire it more fully.


Then, as I knew it must, a cool breeze permeated the heavy wool. I felt it on my tongue before I could feel it on my sweaty skin. The taste of the storm was sweet and sharp all at once. My husband, Miah, came looking for me and found me there, lying in the garden on my back, sticky and barefoot and completely in awe. He asked, in his booming voice, “What are you doing?” to which I simply responded, “Shhh.”


He used to ask again. He used to shake his head and walk away. But we’ve had years together now. We built the garden together. He has tasted wonder too many times to fail to recognize an opportunity like this, to fail to see the summer night for her extraordinary beauty. So he laid there with me, and the night was made all that much sweeter. I don’t know how long the fireflies danced or the electrical storm strobed. It could have been an hour for how paused and pregnant it felt, but I think it was likely much less. Magical moments like that so rarely last.


The breeze that first cut the hot air soon shredded it to bits. Soon it was a howling wind and the smell of heavy rain filled our nostrils. The fireflies grew dark, and as quickly as it came, the moment had moved on.


With little fanfare, we rose. I picked up the camera and slipped on my shoes and we headed to the house, with her warm light spilling out over the dark yard. Miah walked ahead when I paused at the garden and looked back at her. The tomatoes and the sunflowers whipped in the wind. I prayed they would fare the night without damage, and I went inside, into the shower, into the bed.


In the morning I’ll be in the garden again. She will be a completely different lover then, a demanding one with a long list of requests, and I will love her well. But tonight, I make a promise to remember the night with the fireflies and the lightning storm where Miah and I laid in the garden. We must keep these moments, for they are one of the many treasures that grow in a garden. They are treasures, indeed.


To watch my garden tours, visit our YouTube channel, Roots and Refuge.


This essay was originally published in Do South Magazine, a beautiful publication out of Fort Smith, Arkansas. Visit their website here for more of my contributions.

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