For the past few days, whimsical thoughts have been bouncing around in my head. When that happens, I find it almost impossible not to write about whatever whimsy might be plaguing me at the time, no matter how innocuous it may be.
So, today, you get to read about sunflowers.
This certainly isn’t the first time I’ve thought about sunflowers, or even the first time I’ve considered writing about them. In fact, ever since I was a 5-year-old girl living in Kansas, just blocks away from a field of the most beautiful sunflowers you’ve ever seen, these amazingly unique and versatile flowers have held a special place in my heart. Although I was no different than the typical girl who grows up dreaming what her wedding would be like, my vision wasn’t so much of a church filled with stereotypical roses and lilies as it was one sporting bright yellow sunflowers. When I went through a gardening phase in high school (a phase I hope to return to someday), the back of my little garden was always lined with sunflowers that grew taller than me — okay, I’m not that tall, but I still like to think it’s an accomplishment. And more recently, I have briefly considered this extremely attractive sunflower tattoo (don’t worry, I decided it wasn’t me).
Still, despite my years-long delight of sunflowers, I’ve never felt inclined to sit down and actually write about them. There was always something more exciting, more relevant, more pressing. However, just recently, I saw something that inspired me enough to sit down and do what I’ve never been done before — write about sunflowers.
I was on a Cleveland highway, fairly unremarkable as far as highways go, when I spotted something just past the outside line of the road that made me blink and do a double take before remembering that watching the road was probably something I should be doing.
A single sunflower, only about a foot and a half tall, had worked its way up through a crack in the concrete and was thriving on the side of the road. I didn’t have a camera with me — and even if I had, I probably couldn’t have taken a picture given the speed at which my vehicle was traversing on that unremarkable highway — but this photo gives you an idea of what this looked like.
I was so amazed by my fortuitous glimpse of this miracle that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. So many things could have wiped out that sunflower. The heavy rain we’ve been seeing on and off could have been too much for it. A careless driver could have gone just inches over the line and smashed it. Any number of things could have happened to erase that splash of yellow on the side of the road, and really, no one would have felt much of an effect. Most people wouldn’t have even noticed.
But the weather wasn’t too strong, and the drivers were careful at that point on the road, and that sunflower was still growing out of the concrete when I drove past and was inspired. That moment in time segued into a stream of consciousness that I feel compelled to share. Sunflowers growing out of concrete, and sunflowers in general, actually give you a lot to ponder. Here are some of my thoughts.
-Sunflowers are romantic
Oliver Wendell Holmes, a well-known Supreme Court associate justice who had a large mustache and apparently was also a closet poet, once said,
Fame is the scentless sunflower, with gaudy crown of gold;
But friendship is the breathing rose, with sweets in every fold.
I’m sure Holmes wasn’t the only one to see sunflowers as common. Maybe it’s their vague similarity to dandelions. Maybe it’s the fact they can grow to be the size of dinner plates — who wants a bouquet of those?
I won’t argue with him about fame, but when it comes to sunflowers, I don’t agree with the 20th century judge. Scent is overrated; I think flowers as unique and likable as sunflowers are absolutely romantic. If this journalism and publishing thing doesn’t work out, I’ll just make millions selling sunflowers on Valentine’s Day.
And although I think any one sunflower is a work of art, the species as a whole is something special as well, which brings me to my next point.
-Sunflowers are amazingly versatile
Because I’m such a Photoshop expert, I made up this extremely high-tech strip of photos to demonstrate just how versatile sunflowers can be (I know. It’s okay if you applaud. It is impressive.)
Joking aside, though, I’ve always loved the fact that this flower has so many faces. Each type has its own characteristics, but they all share the basic traits of their family. Big and small, smooth and fuzzy, yellow and red… Why am I still talking? The Photoshop strip says it all.
-I can learn a lot from sunflowers
I love quotes. As a writer, I can’t get away from that love, and I’ve never wanted to. And despite Oliver Wendell Holmes and others like him, there have been people before me who have also seen inspiration in sunflowers. Although I don’t want to detract from this amazingly deep post with too many quotes, these flowers have been described as “plain, honest and upright” by Henry Ward Beecher; “a favorite emblem of constancy” by Thomas Bulfinch; and “crazed with the love of light” by Eugenio Montale. The best comes from a woman I find particularly quotable, Helen Keller:
Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see the shadow. It’s what sunflowers do.
That really says it all. One of the things I find most appealing about sunflowers is their instinctive, simplistic love of the sun — a love that is so undeniable they will break through concrete to fulfill it. Am I willing to work that hard to get what I love?
If a plant can break through concrete to see the sun, surely I can complete jobs I dislike without complaining, deal with a difficult source and handle criticism with grace.
All I have to do is keep my face to the sunshine.