The morning light has a new quality about it, somewhere between platinum and gold as summer wanes.
My daughter sets off to high school, starting anew, this being her freshman year. The summer monsoon showers have tailed off. We might get that one blast of moisture the last week of September, but it’s never the intensity of the afternoon cloudbursts that poured over us in July that turned a tawny field the color of a mule deer’s pelt to a refreshing blue-green akin to an algae-laden pond. Blue gramma grass and neon-orange Indian paintbrush and lemony-yellow sunflowers soak up that final bit of moisture.
Bright sunflowers along our rural roads on the green side of the mountains near Edgewood where I live are monuments to the passing season. They first grow straight, fast and tall in July and put out leaves as big as hearty pancakes, coarse to the touch. They branch out en masse to what amounts to a bush in August. Even the most casual observer will note the progress of the season as measured by sunflowers. For me, it’s a bit of a let-down to see their gleaming gold summer petals trend slowly toward an autumn hue like corn husks that swaddle a tamale.
Seasons come and seasons pass and children grow up — and this ceaseless progression reminds any thinking being to enjoy what you have where you are right now.
What a joy it has been to watch white, blue or multicolored butterflies with the most curious of names — swallowtail, fritillary, skipper and checker — to flit about clusters of sunflowers like winged confetti in a roadside ticker-tape parade. Bees big and small land on the brown bulbous disks that will become autumn seed heads. Bees take a more staid and steady approach in pollinating plants. And they earn dual credit, what with making amber honey and ensuring that plants reproduce. They always fly a little bit backward first, as if to gain steam to zip off to the next stand of sunflowers. Could there be a better metaphor for human industry?
Sunflowers grace my rural routes in part by the actions of road graders, school buses, snowplows and other works that disturb road shoulders. How often do you see clusters of sunflowers away from the roadside edge? Nearly never. It’s not that gravely roadsides make sunflower habitat — its the loosening of the soil that gives germinating seeds a hold.
As fall comes on fully, the flowers that fed bees and butterflies will nourish seed-eating birds. Lesser goldfinches dressed in black and lime-tinged yellow feathers migrating to warmer climes will land on the brown hull of an exhausted sunflower, pry out a few seeds and move on toward Mexico. Leftover seeds might get pushed into the soil beneath a school bus or from a snowplow in December, setting the stage for next autumn, when spritely sunflowers reach into the blue sky to soak up the rays as the days get shorter.