The Stowaway Sun

A fire has been lit.  A perfect little fire framed by white bricks and contained with a glass accordion door.  It took no effort to light.  I just flipped a switch and the gas lit the fake logs with just the right amount of ash coloring.  Easy.  Predictable.  Reliable.  Everything a fireplace fire should be on a resume.  Except the smell.  I am glad it doesn’t smell, but disappointed as well.  It’s a little too perfect.

I lit the fire because it’s the first time I’ve felt a chill all summer.  It’s September 2, but summer in Seattle is on life support.  It’s still here and this week will be a prime example of why the Pacific Northwest is one of the most beautiful places on Earth.  But tonight I felt cold while hauling water to my plot in the community garden.  I tried to sit outside as the sun went down, but it felt different.  Perhaps it was the wind or a combination of that and the sun disappearing before 8 p.m. now.  As a lifelong resident, I know the death of summer is knocking on our doors.  

The dinner plate sized heads of my sunflowers are beginning to droop. The yellow petals that fringe their seeded faces have curled inward much like the haircuts found on sculptures of Roman emperors. Unlike the Roman statues, they are wilting. However, further down on their sturdy stalks are smaller versions of themselves. Their offspring that have not served the overhead sun for quite so long. The bees seem not to care though. They love them all.

I wasn’t supposed to have a sunflower.  I didn’t plant any.  In the several gardens I’ve called my own, I’ve made mistakes.  I’ve pulled weeds that were actually flowers.  I’ve let weeds have their way.  I’ve experimented with propagation and plant/shrub relocation too.  One thing it’s taught me is that it’s okay to just take a breath and wait and see.  Sometimes the weeds are actually Western Bleeding Hearts.  The beautiful little purple bleeding hearts that love partially shaded gardens.  

I don’t have any Western Bleeding Hearts or any bleeding hearts in my little P-Patch, but I have had my fair share of weeds and most I pulled in the early spring before planting my summer crop.  When I say crop, I really mean cherry tomatoes.  Unlike most the other gardeners (perhaps all of them) in my community garden, I grow vines and flowers, and other pretty things.  I’ve had many compliments on my little plot and though I don’t grow food for the food bank, like other selfless gardeners next to me, I do take pride and enjoyment in knowing that my little patch may have brought a smile to a passerby’s day.  

Before my cherry tomatoes started overgrowing my two little blueberry bushes as well as the marigolds I planted to protect the tomatoes against insects, I almost pulled a little weed along the edge of my raised bed.  I had my hands around its little stem ready to yank it free of my soil.  Then I paused.  What if?  What if this weed had potential?  What if this weed was something I didn’t know I wanted?  What if?

So I released my grip.  I’d give it awhile to prove itself.  With enough time, everyone and everything in life will show you their real colors.  This is the truth that I know.  Just breathe.  And wait.   And hope it doesn’t take too long.

It took a few weeks for me to have my suspicions. The stalk grew sturdier and ever upward. A flower head emerged, but was too shy to open. Taller and taller it grew until it passed my 5 feet in height and still it grew some more. In that time, another had emerged along the perpendicular edge. I left it to its own purpose other than my watering.

When it was time to open up, I knew for sure it was a sunflower.  Its face is the poster child for summer.  I used to think they were named sunflowers because their flowers resemble the sun with their perfect disk centers surrounded by ray flowers.  It’s not from what I’ve read.  It’s actually because the flowers themselves follow the sun!  That is until they are too mature and then they continue to face east.  I suppose they are not unlike people.  When they get too old, they are hard pressed to take a different direction.  Fascinating flowers for sure.

My particular sunflower began to dwarf my hand by mid summer. Of course, being 5 feet tall, my hands aren’t that big, but still. If I could reach the top of it and compare its head to my own, I’m guessing it would be about the same. At this time, several smaller faces had sprouted along its now very sturdy trunk. I say trunk because I think of stems as delicate and this thing is about an inch and a half in diameter. Perhaps less. I’ve never been good with measurements, but maybe I’ll take my tape measure out if I can remember.

I didn’t plant the sunflowers. I didn’t have any in my P-Patch when I was granted it in August of the previous year. It was barren save for a rather large thyme bush that shows off little purple flowers in the spring and spidery webs the rest of the summer. The webs (and their creators) is why I haven’t given it much attention and I am considering its removal or at least partial removal in the safe, spider free, months of winter. To be decided.

The plot had a few spiders last summer, but no sunflowers. The plot next to mine had a couple of wild looking ones though. I never saw the person who attended (or not) them.

Last fall I planted a few shrubs that my dad was babysitting for me during my transition from house to city condo rental.  I also purchased a couple little blueberry bushes to pop in there.  I remember going out to water and check on my newly planted items to find a large sunflower head in my plot.  Decapitated.  I suppose it posed too big of a burden for a bird (crow or seagull I bet) to carry off and was dropped.  Gardening in its natural form I guess. 

Nature is a great teacher if one pays attention. Life presents us with so many weeds. Do we pull them? Do we let them grow? Do we nurture them? My experiences have taught me to observe them. Let them show themselves for who or what they are. Pull them if needed. Let them grow if they prove potential. But always observe and reserve judgement for a time when enough information has been gathered. Don’t just pluck or leave to spread wild. Observe and the answers will come.

For my step-mom who just recently passed away…you were a sunflower and may that fiery red head of yours always follow the sun.  I observed you for about 26 years.  You were a flower and not a weed.  You are forever a sunflower in my memories and I will continue to water you.

This year has been a hard one.  Weeds abound.  Perhaps the seeds that lay to rest this fall will bring us sunflowers come next summer.  Until then, enjoy all the flowers big and small before the fall takes them away and never forget that the weed you first see could possibly be a stowaway sun.  

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