Big fields of beautiful flowers have always fascinated me. The riotous profusion of color makes my heart beat faster. I recall standing thunderstruck on Whidbey Island in San Juan Sound in Washington state, looking at a 20 acre field of wild foxglove in every shade of pink and purple. If I’d been Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz,” I’d have taken a nap in the poppies and never woken up!
My childhood years were a challenge and I soothed myself in the sanctuary of nearby woods and hedgerows, filled in spring with the blue of violet and the white and green of lily of the valley. I counted the seasons in those woods and when we moved, I went alone to bid them farewell. The abundance of those flowers became part of my inner landscape. When I saw photos of the lavender fields of Provence, I wanted to roll in them like catnip.
Oddly, sunflowers didn’t used to be my favorite flower. I judged them by a rose’s beauty and fragrance, forgetting the rose’s thorns. Sunflowers are tall and spindly, oversized, scraggly-looking standing there by themselves, one or two specimens in a home garden. I think I started noticing and admiring them when a neighbor planted a half acre plot near my old Amherst house. Every year, I looked forward to seeing them push up through what had been lowland and wave their heads at the sky. It was a big stand of just sunflowers and it dawned on me that that’s how they are meant to grow, holding each other up to reach the sun. After that, they became my favorite.
In the Margaree River valley, I found an even bigger field of glorious sunflowers owned by Miller Farms in northeast Margaree. I pulled my camera out. It was the end of my first summer on the island and the field was an enormous bouquet wishing me well until I could return. When we married, our friend’s house was filled with sunflowers and asters. Every year I take photos of that Margaree field to be reminded of the beauty.
Sunflowers (helianthus annuus) are heliotropic plants, with flowers turning to follow the sun. Native to the Americas, that head-turning characteristic is found wherever they grow. Their symbolism goes back a long ways. In old Tarot decks, sunflowers signify success and growth and you’ll find them on the cards most associated with a successful harvest.
Today, I look at Miller’s field of sunflowers and their collective sunny optimism inspires me. For half a century, I’ve been trying to lift myself above the labels of my childhood, to bring my heart to the fore, to learn to be happy. I can’t do it alone. I’ve needed many villages of people and a lot of music and I’m still working on it.
The sunflowers remind me that we depend on each other, that we are stronger together, and that together we can hold each other up, turning toward the light.