At the Center of the Sunflower: A Summer Solstice Tale
Updated: Jul 16, 2019
by Molly Murfee
“Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.”
- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
On the Summer Solstice this year I went back to see the Great Blue Herons, the 23 that surprised me on my birthday in that flooded spring a few years back, where we floated awe-struck beneath their prehistoric squawks, and stoic silhouettes against the rain-laden, silent sky.
We laid on the gravel bar, the water snaking past our downriver feet, flowing past and through. We watched their silent comings and goings as they flew south over the serpentine curves that shone like mirrors, returning again and again. Feeding fuzzy babies, gifting each other fish. We learned their calls. The way they gracefully arced into the treetops.
Some say the heron is a symbol of aggressive self-determination and self-reliance. The only time they gather in colonies is during the breeding season. The rest of their lives they fly their own path, straight as arrows, the primordial shape of their bodies digging deep into our own innermost psyches of goal and desire. They wade, patiently, slowly, silently at the edge of waters, surveying for fish, striking rapidly and assuredly at the flashing opportunities rising to the surface. A relevant and potent totem.
That was the true beginning to now, and this portal through which I have passed.
Today as I walk out, the Arrowleaf Balsamroot Sunflowers are in an outrageous state – such that I have never seen, growing straight out of ancient waste piles of the old mining days. Treasure out of trash. Blooms rooted in the past. It’s their time, their day, taking advantage of their perfect conditions - the drear of May’s rain-snow giving them the saturation they needed, hiding underground just long enough, their presence an indicator of the soils from which they arise.
To me, the Sunflower is that representation of ultimate and full expression – vivacious petals stretching out into the world with absolute joy and exuberance. I’ve always loved them, their happiness. Their cheer. Their optimism. I imagine them emanating from my belly, my core.
When my father gave me a row in his backyard garden to plant as I liked, I chose the sunflower, the Mammoth Sunflower, in fact. It boasted an enormous head swelling with seeds, and would ultimately win me a gigantic blue ribbon at the county fair, its golden radiance unselfconsciously and unabashedly competing alongside the canned pickles, where cucumbers succumbed to the sogginess of the sealed jar, like formaldehyded animals in junior high biology.
As I tiptoe among these high mountain Balsamroot, snapping photos, I spy a Red-Tailed Hawk above me, hitching rides on invisible wind currents, spiraling and spiraling, the seemingly random movements emulating universal pattern – that of seashell, and unfurling fiddle head. A ram’s horn. Center of the sunflower. There is rhythm, clandestine order in the chaos, repetition and reason in the moving in, moving out, over and over.
Two blackbirds, one-quarter the size of the hawk, dart and pester, harassing her as if merely irritated by her large presence. She stays strong on her own trajectory, fearlessly flying steady, barely tilting a wing, maintaining her hawk’s eye vision and purpose, until finally they give up, banking away to find some other senseless diversion to while away their days, carelessly cawing, a pair of aerial clowns clashing and careening through the sky.
“I see you like a rocket right now,” a wise elder-friend observed, “Shedding pieces behind you as you soar into the skies.”
So much flotsam and jetsam, the irritations not on your flight plan. Extreme prioritizing. Discovering the prohibitive weight, its heaviness, oppressiveness. The shedding. The releasing, making space. Finding unhappiness, transforming it. The thinking and sobbing and howling. Of brandishing fists at the sky and yelling at God. Then shaking it off like a dog after a bath.
It takes this. All this. The snow and the rain and the cold. The withering and dying. The resting. The hibernation and gestation of seeds. A January sleep so deep, all you awake to see is blackness.
Sloughing layers and winter’s coats like yesterday’s grudges and rutted expectations. A rain-snow that soaks your roots ‘til madness comes, proving later a repository for necessary nourishment and growth.
I have started Summer Solstice articles so many times, the fear of not living up to expectations – whether mine or society’s I don’t know – preventing me from truly putting pen to paper. It’s the pinnacle, the apex. What if it’s not good enough? What if I don’t succeed? How can I possibly communicate so much beauty? So many lessons? So much learning?
But this is the season of doing. Not planning and preparing. Not wondering and second guessing. Being. Relishing in the absolute wealth of life. Growing. Blooming.
The succulence of summer is living that life you have imagined, the one that answers your own needs and desires, rather than to other’s whims, afraid of their judgement or condemnation. Not waiting until this or that is done to get started. Something always just on the other side of the horizon. Now. Your schedule, your rhythm, your response. The flow.
It’s how you bloom that’s your own signature. The monocarpic perennials of the Green Gentian, saving up for 70 years before going all out in a seed explosion of a hundred flowers, everything forward in a fantastic firework display at the end of one’s life. One final kablam. Then done.
Or that of the ever-returning Mule’s Ear, tirelessly stockpiling the energy of one summer’s sun to gather everything it needs for the following year. Some blooming again and again, others lying in wait for the perfect conditions, that absolute combination of prolific rain followed by sun. Necessarily flexing to whatever the weather brings, the universe and fate, a lesson in timing, a storing and stewing sometimes years in the making, seizing opportunities and abundance.
I begin by walking into summer’s light every day. To see what new has emerged, what warrants or calls my attention. I stride across these reminders of positivity, these gifts of beauty, like stones across the creek. This Lupine. This Indian Paintbrush. This emergence of dragonflies, electrified like the blue of a high-altitude glacial lake.
In these moments we reach out with all of our senses – the honeysuckle scent of the Columbine, the cacophony of dawn’s chorus, the purple punctuation of Larkspur in the grass.
It is time.
This new beginning.
The world needs our brightest, sunflower-centered selves.
Each of us stepping into our own skin, our own hide.
Donning our own feathers for flight.
Creative non-fiction and place-based author Molly Murfee specializes in nature and environmental writing cut with cultural and societal critique. Sign up for the Earth Muffin Memos Blog & Newsletter for more on her ongoing book project; field-based Writing & Connection Workshops; online advertising and syndicate column opportunities; and freelance writing services at her brand-new, just-now-revealed-to-the-world-this-week-website at www.mollymurfee.com.