by Maggie Martin

I untangled myself from the sheets on my bed, compelled to go out to the flower garden the moment the mid-summer sun lit the tops of the trees that had hidden, since spring, the Contoocook’s white-capped rapids rushing by below my second-floor window. Barefoot, still in my pajamas, I swirled a shawl over my shoulders as I walked out the front door, leaving it ajar.

Crossing my porch, I passed the weathered wicker rocker and chair, then descended two steps to the circular path that leads to my destination. Not for the first time, I brushed against the barberry bush near the bottom step—its leaves, deep green, tinged with purple—and felt the sting of its prickly spines, as sharp as they will be when late autumn’s berries, like drops of blood, appear.

The garden, planted long before I arrived, had become my sanctuary when I moved to this place and let go of everything I had known. More than plants and soil, the garden became a metaphor. Taking care of it, I could put myself right. Uprooting the weeds of worry from my mind and sorting out and removing the seeds of fear and regret from my heart became my practice in this third act of my life. The garden became my opportunity to heal. To strengthen. To start anew.

Drawn to an unshaded patch at the garden’s far end, I knelt on the still cool earth and whispered, “Hello,” to new/old friends, Daisy, Lily, and Black-Eyed Susan, before ripping out Sour Grass, our uninvited guest. My ritual, begun again.

Photgraph by Frank Gorga
Photograph by Frank Gorga from “Autumnal Abstracts” series

I can’t say how long I went about my work, in early morning silence, before I became aware of a roaring sound— an intermittent whoosh, distant at first, then closer, louder. So loud at last, it forced me to look up from the ground, rise to my feet, and gasp in disbelief as a yellow-orange-red-striped hot-air balloon descended from the clouds, close enough for me to see clearly its passengers’ faces.

Without bidding, my right arm reached up. My hand waved. I laughed, almost crying with delight. Voice cracking, I called out, “Good Morning!” My visitors echoed my greeting. “What a wonderful way to start the day!” It was the only thing I could think of to say, as they hovered above me.

As I stood among the flowers and weeds, it felt like forever until the flames began to blossom beneath the balloon. The whoosh and roar grew loud once more. Hands clasped, as if I were praying, I turned and observed the vessel glide through the air, headed toward the river behind me. I followed it to the edge of the river bank at the back of my yard, watching it lift up, and up, until suddenly, it lost altitude and dipped down the embankment, almost touching the water.

I held my breath, certain my visitors would tumble into the river. But just in time, the flames grew larger than I had ever seen them, and the whoosh and roar louder than I’d heard before.

The balloon began to rise, slowly at first, then faster, higher over the trees and into the clouds on the other side.

No longer holding my breath, I waved and waited until it disappeared from view. Still grinning, I returned to tending my garden, stepping lightly, as if an alchemical reaction had occurred in my body.

I’d like to say my life miraculously transformed after that day. In truth, worries, fears, and regrets, like their garden counterparts, grow back, no matter how many times I try to eradicate them. Their roots may not go as deep as in the past, but I still have to work at removing them. Health and strength, new life, arrive in their own time.

But when I do think about that day, it’s as if all of my molecules re-form. My heart feels lighter, my body less tense. I step out of ordinary time, and into a dimension where miracles happen; whispered requests for signs, during sleepless nights, are heard and granted; visitations occur, though not necessarily from angels, their wings flashing in the sun. Nothing quite as grand.

Do I remember my day of visitation every time I kneel down to work in my garden? No. Life, most days, is rather mundane, even in that place where once, under a blue, mid-summer sky, early one morning, I had an encounter with what I have chosen to call the sublime.