I didn’t have any scissors with me, so I pulled the sunflower blooms off the stems with my hands. This was a mistake. If I ever need to find a fibrous plant with which to braid a make-shift rope, I will probably use sunflower stems.
I was at the community garden plot I help out with sometimes, and I was stewing and worrying about a personal issue, lost in circular thoughts about potential misunderstandings, personal failures, and differing viewpoints. I had rehearsed completed and potential conversations in my head, over and o
ver, sewing new seeds of fear and frustration with every weed I pulled. But, even in the midst of my stewing, I couldn’t help loving and reveling in the light on the sunflowers and the tomato leaves and the cottonwood trees. I felt at home in the light there, even as I worried and fretted. Why is it that we love the evening light so much? I would just speak for myself, but it seems to be a universal human condition.
My body was torn between the sinking feeling in my stomach and the euphoric feeling in my fingers as I plucked off ripe cherry tomatoes made brighter by the slant of the sun. The breeze lifted my hair as I pruned the dead branches. Turmoil and content wove together.
A return to the sunflowers. I pulled and bent and twisted and tugged and even separated the fibers out so that I could work on one section at a time. It’s worth mentioning at this point that these were not sunflowers stolen from someone else’s garden plot; they were volunteer sunflowers growing out of the compost pile where I had dumped the fallen tomatoes and the shriveled leaves. That seemed entirely fair game to me. But these flowers didn’t want to be any kind of game. They wanted to go on existing in the compost pile, free of human hands and jars of water. And I felt just as determined to bring something of the garden’s peace back home with me.
I managed to get some of the blooms: five sunflowers, wrestled from the woody stalks that towered above the rotting plant clippings. When I got home, I trimmed off the stringy remnants of our battle and put them in a water-filled mason jar. They sat on my wooden dining table, dropping bright saffron pollen onto its dark, shiny surface. I am grateful – they didn’t seem to regret their conquered position in my dining room. Is it always such an act of violence to bring a living blossom into one’s home? And was the violence against the flowers or against my own tumultuous insides? Or was it instead an act of being present, of saying: I know that not even these flowers will last forever, but I choose to put them in a place where I will be forced to watch them move through time, and I will learn to love each fading petal and each curling leaf; I will embrace the dance of life and decay, of happiness and discomfort, of beauty and frustration. It was not the flower I had to coax into my daily presence but my full attention.
Somehow, my memory of being in the garden that evening is peaceful and not anxiety-ridden. Maybe it’s because the golden light surrounded everything and held it together. Maybe it’s because my situation was resolved soon after. Or maybe it’s because plants must, in some way, absorb all our tension and place it in the ground, buried with the fertilizer and the loam, ready to be composted into something more life-giving.