Life ain’t easy. “When you’re dark and troubled…” begins the Carole King song that was made even more famous by James Taylor. When we hear these first words to “You’ve Got a Friend,” all of us inch right up to the edge of our seats and bob our necks forward in anticipation, because we know in our bones this what of being “dark and troubled,” oh yes we do. It’s the human lot, at least on occasion, and when the Brood Brothers descend and linger, wearing their dark suits with midnight-black shirts and matching hankies, we know they’re not our friends, and we need a Carole King and James Taylor to fill in the second half of that opening line, that dependent clause, with a soulful, wise and expansive response.
Or else, at the peak of summer, we can consider the sunflower.
Let’s, shall we?
Sunflowers are part of a huge family—think Italian baptisms with dozens of long tables set out in the countryside for the far-flung relatives dressed in their feastly finest. The family consists of some 100 members, complementing scores of sunflower varieties with other stalwarts such as daisies, asters and chamomile. The clan’s botanical name is “Asteraceae,” though it was formerly called “Compositae” because the flowers are actually “composites” made up of multiple flowers within flowers.
Those glorious whorling “petals” you admire that rim the seed-bearing center pods? Those are actually flowers unto themselves, known as “ray flowers.” The center reveals more indie flowers, called “disc flowers.”
So many flowers running riot within one larger encompassing flower would make its composite aspects striking were it not for the far more striking feature of the sunflower’s unmitigated feel-good beauty. They’re like nature’s happy face, boring in on our ultimately boring foul moods with their playful beckoning spirit. Think what it took to get the likes of Van Gogh to finally snap out of his ubiquitous funks and consort with all that affirming yellow.
It’s impossible to walk by a row of sunflowers, much less a whole field, and not be moved by the marvel of it all. Whatever their complex botany, they jut on up out of the earth, sometimes pushing 9 feet in my backyard and up to 13 feet at their peak, as such a dramatic adornment to the landscape as to make surrounding plants shrink to insignificance, like those really high mountains that have the misfortune of being next to Mt. Everest. You know their names, eh? Right, neither do I…
In keeping with the playfulness theme, one Internet query answered the question, “How did sunflowers get their name?” with this: “Because they need a lot of sunlight.” By jove, I think they’re onto something with that, and come to think of it, so do I. I plan to soak in a little more of it before summer departs, and the sunflowers wilt, and we begin to look for enchantment of another sort in the great golden death of fall.
For now, I will grope for no more words and say only this as we ready for peak sunflower season: Behold!
Grateful thanks as always to the photographers: Rotating banner photos top of page courtesy of Elizabeth Haslam, some rights reserved under Creative Commons licensing, see more at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/lizhaslam/
Small sunflower on top, courtesy of “White Pebbles,” under Creative Comments licensing, some rights reserved, photostream at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/91019665@N00/
Field of sunflowers photo courtesy of Philip Milne, Dundee, Scotland, under Creative Comments licensing, some rights reserved, photostream at: http://www.flickr.com/people/pamilne/
Large heart-of-sunflower photo courtesy of Andrew Storm, Petaluma, CA, under Creative Comments licensing, some rights reserved, photostream at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/linecon0/
Smaller backlit sunflower photo nearer to bottom of page courtesy of Daniel Lombraña González, under Creative Comments licensing, some rights reserved, photostream at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/teleyinex/
Finally, lone red sunflower near bottom of page, courtesy of Richard Fulop, Canada, under Creative Comments licensing, some rights reserved, photostream at: http://www.flickr.com/people/evilemre/
Meanwhile, Carole King and James Taylor got together for a tastefully rendered, not-so-little reunion tour three years ago and, we can assume, managed to beat back their owns darks & troubles by making sweet music together across the land.