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Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Afternoon Sunflower Delight


I am sitting in the back yard, in a slightly uncomfortable chair, in the shade of a maple tree. The chair might be a bit awkward, but my legs are long and most chairs are ill-fitting. Besides, the book I am reading is entertaining and compelling, and the hum of the bees and the songs of the birds all around is pleasant. It is warm, but not overwhelmingly so; it is a very pleasant and pleasing August afternoon.

The neighbor’s cat (a black tom named Scamper) approaches me. He prowls the neighborhood, roaming through the yards, jumping fences, doing whatever it is that freewill, free-range felines do during the day. He stops by to insist himself against my leg, purring. He flicks his tail to invite me to stroke his back and to rub his head – until he is done. Then he strikes with teeth and claws and an intimidating hiss, but only enough to say, “I’m outa’ here.” He does not draw blood. He leaves the way he came, but he’ll be back again later. When he wants to. Or not.

A little white moth (of what variety I do not know) stumbles around the yard – drunkenly, up, down, forward, side, never in a straight line from anywhere to anywhere. Dip, lift, light, flight, away it goes.

Birds are eating the sunflowers that I planted in my backyard garden. A bright flash of sunlight and shadow dives into the flowers– a goldfinch light enough to lite on the leafy branches pecks with a tiny pointed beak into the dark circle centers of my flowers. Busted seed shells are scattered down below in the dirt. He doesn’t notice me watching him, watching him lean and twist to reach the seeds, then flit and flutter and shake to crack them open. He doesn’t notice me watching the empty seed husks fall. But I see him.

Perhaps if I were a professional farmer, a sunflower farmer, dependent upon a good crop of seeds to sell, I’d be distressed by this thievery. But I’m not so I’m not. I grow these flowers for the challenge and the delight of seeing them grow. And for the delight of watching bees and birds flying in and among them.

The backdoor opens to let the dog out for a bit. She’s an eleven year old Great Dane, once bounding with energy and a sleek black coat, now slow and grey and white in the face. But she still loves to be outside. The seed stealing goldfinch is startled and takes flight, swooping up into the branches of the maple tree above me.

I see great bomber bees, fuzzy yellow zeppelins, bumbling back and forth among the dinner plate blossoms – bomber bees that live not in a hive, but in a hole in the ground (I’ve followed them. It’s a hole in the ground near the air-conditioner unit). I see Yellow Jacket wasps, and Hoverflies – which look like bees but are not, as well as that flashy yellow goldfinch – returned with his slightly duller hued female companion (no less glorious in her muted colors) now that the dog has lay down in a shady corner of the yard, far from the sunflower buffet. 

Shadowed Sunflower by Jeff Carter on 500px.com
I’ve also seen, to my surprise (and delight) humming birds eating at my sunflowers, ruby throated, green lighting darts darting in to feed on fresh brewed sun tea, sweet tea, sweet sunflower nectar, which must be the ambrosia of Helios himself. There are orange and black butterflies too, floating among the blood-red-soon-to-turn-deep-yellow heads. They are the majestic monarchs of a disappearing kingdom.

I complained last summer of the squirrels who snicked the heads off my sunflowers in order to snack on the seeds, but I wasn’t really upset. This too the way of the world; the squirrels, too, are a delight.

I don’t know if my sunflowers will help preserve the bees and the butterflies. Perhaps their declines are already too far gone. This is the way the world ends - not with a bang, not in fire, not in ice as some folks will say, but in futility -in the buzzless despair of unpollinated futility. The world will be a sorrowful place when the bees and butterflies are gone forever. So I delight in them if and while I can.


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