Friday, August 07, 2020

Friday Ramble - Following the Sun

In summer, young sunflowers follow the sun around the sky all day long. When they grow up, the blooms face the rising sun, and they are no longer able to circle in what is (to me anyway) summer's most engaging dance. When I drove by a field of sunflowers a few days ago and found they had turned their backs and were all facing east, I tried not to take it personally, but part of me was wistful.  The kids were all grown up and ready to leave home.

It's all a matter of circadian rhythms (or the circadian clock), the internal 24 hour cycle that regulates our gnarly metabolisms and keeps us tune with the natural world according to the hours of light and darkness in our environment. The word circadian comes from the Latin circa (about) plus diem (a day), and most living things have circadian clocks of some kind. Circadian protocols tell us when we should sleep, prompt bears, bats and squirrels to go into hibernation, advise trees to lose their leaves and withdraw into themselves for the winter, let birds and butterflies know it is time to migrate. The science of circadian rhythms is called chronobiology, and it is lovely stuff indeed.

Fledgling sunflowers drink the sun's warmth to fuel their journey to maturity and turn their heads to follow it. As they mature, they take in more light, heating up early in the day and releasing a heady fragrance that attracts legions of pollinating insects like butterflies and bees and ensures future generations of sunflowers.  Grownup blooms have fulfilled their prime motivation (dynamic purpose) and attained their highest and most complete expression. They have done what they were put here on earth to do, and they no longer need to follow the sun.

Members of the helianthus family are amazing. What seems at first glance to be a single sunflower is actually a whole community of flowers, more than a thousand tiny blooms arranged in a perfect spiraling sequence. Each bloom is inclined toward the next bloom by approximately 37.5°, a measurement known in mathematics as the golden angle. The arrangement creates an elegant series of interconnecting spirals in which the number of left oriented spirals and the number of right oriented spirals are successive Fibonacci numbers. It's arty, scientific and just plain beautiful, stunning in fact.

A lifelong admirer of spirals, golden angles and Fibonacci sequences whenever and wherever they turn up, I'm always delighted to come across another one in my rambles.  Finding a few sunflowers in someone's garden is always a happy thing, and discovering a whole field along a quiet country road is dazzling. It always boggles my mind to think that such splendid creatures are blooming gloriously without anyone around to admire them.

In autumn, faded sunflowers are wondrous in their imposing stature, earthy coloration, spikiness and sculptural complexity. Determined to engender legions of progeny and perpetuate their particular genetic brew, they birth thousands of seeds every autumn, mothering whole dynasties of towering stalks, fuzzy leaves and beaming golden faces that will appear when springtime rolls around next time. In the depths of winter I try to remember that somewhere, legions of tiny, unborn sunflowers are sleeping and dreaming under Himalayan heaps of snow.

In "Enriching the Earth", Wendell Berry describes the earth's cycling as "slowly falling into the fund of things", and I am fond of the notion. Going to seed is a good thing, a fine thing, a natural and necessary thing. Every coin in nature's wild unruly banking is kin, whatever its size, shape or denomination.

7 comments:

Pienosole said...

🌻☀️🙏🏻❤️ Amazing!

Barbara R. said...

Great post about those wonderful flowers, filling me with wonder! We are indeed blessed to have this fabulous world around us.

Tabor said...

I love sunflowers and have just a few I planted. They do not look as nice as yours. The bees, the goldfinch, and others are eating them from petal to undeveloped seed!

One Woman's Journey - a journal being written from Woodhaven - her cottage in the woods. said...

Miss my sunflowers
planted in the past.

Thank you for your kind notes to me
so appreciated.

Kate, you are special to me, take care of yourself


Debbie Grace said...

So enjoyed this reflection!

Love you, too, my dear,
Prairie Star
who is still trustin'

Kiki said...

And I thought I knew it all about sunflowers! I didn’t know that once they’re ‘adult’ they don’t turn their faces towards the sun any longer. We have passed sunflower fields in France and Switzerland and they are something so utterly beautiful that every time my heart is sumersaulting for joy! Thank you for sharing your wide and in-depth knowledge with us.

Kiki said...
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