I regretted not stopping to take a picture of the sea of sunflowers less than a mile after I passed it between Pelican Rapids and Erhard.
In late August in Minnesota, the prairie is an artist’s canvas. I see that clearly now. When I actually lived there, however, the absence of any serious trees and the months of blistering wind chills made me biased and ornery and blind to the beauty. I longed for the way the pine trees hugged the highway once I got near Park Rapids every trip “up north” and spent a dozen years wondering why anyone would choose (actually choose) to live lives without trees around. I scoffed at the sloughs that other people referred to as “lakes” in that annoyingly cocky way that people who grow up near real lakes often do.
This is because I am a child of the woods. But I do love a field full of sunflowers in late summer.
I love the way they stand at attention in fine, even, rows and how they tilt their heads to face the direction of the sun from morning until night. I love that if I look far off to the horizon and squint just a little that there’s an optical illusion of sunflowers marching in formation up hill. I love the predictability and orderliness of a field of sunflowers. I even love them in autumn once their heads begin to droop, which is what the crop I happened to notice was doing by the following Sunday when I drove past in the north-bound lane, heading home.
Here at home, the puffy bright yellow flowers and wiry stems of wild Tansy are beginning to turn brown. Tansy is random and clump-y – she is the wild sorority sister of the moon faced Sunflower. The one who parties too much and ends up on someone’s futon across campus on Friday nights. Sunflowers go to church on Sunday and call their moms and sleep in neat rows where they’re supposed to. Tansy doesn’t care. She grows tall and spindly and then turns brown as the days get shorter. Sunflowers comply. Tansy refuses to be bossed around.
Every so often, in a fallow field there will be a solitary corn plant that takes root and grows, but I’ve yet to see a sunflower do that. And despite wild Tansy’s wandering ways here in the woods, I’ve never seen her volunteer in a field full of prairie sunflowers. As I drive, I wonder if it is an aversion to boundaries, in general, that keep the Tansy out of the sunflower patch. And then I wonder what it is about those boundaries that keep a flower as tall, straight and lovely as a sunflower in her place throughout her short, short life.
A farmer friend told me once that sunflowers bow their heads once the seeds ripen.
I wonder if that’s the only reason they seem so sad in late summer…..