Sunflowers, among other things


Maybe it is my imagination, but sunflowers seem to have increased in popularity in recent years. For most of my life, they were just tall flowering plants in the corner of my grandparents’ garden or on display in the Horticulture Building at the county fair. In the 70’s when we were wearing Earth Shoes and doing macramé, we ate sprouts, granola – and sunflower seeds.

Several years ago, however, I noticed a sunflower outside the assisted living center where I visited my dad several times a week. I followed its growing season that spring and summer, feeling simultaneously energized and calmed as I observed the plant’s botanical progress.

Then I began noticing more and more sunflower motifs in my needlework catalogs, while Pinterest displayed hundreds of sunflower photos and related creative ideas.

Last month a former student proudly shared a photo of her sunflower “finally blooming.” And when I saw the senior pictures of a friend’s daughter and photos of the new Pony Wagon Queen – both young ladies standing in a field of sunflowers – I decided to find out more.

I read that sunflowers resemble the sun and can measure 120 vertical inches. During budding, they follow the sun from east to west, while adult sunflowers face east to await the sunrise.

Vincent Van Gogh painted a famous sunflower series in the south of France, but nowadays the largest sunflower fields in the world cover acres and acres in the Tuscany region of Italy.

Fortunately, we need not head for Europe to marvel at sunflower beauty. Such pleasures are available just south of us.

The sunflower field where the aforementioned photos were snapped is located on Route 68 near Yellow Springs. According to published reports, some 400,000 sunflowers stand proudly tall on the Whitehall Farm owned by Dave and Sharen Neuhardt. In cooperation with the Tecumseh Land Trust, the area is open to all – for photographing, drawing, painting, or otherwise simply wandering through this wonder of nature. By the way, the Tecumseh Land Trust “preserves natural and agricultural lands” in Clark and Greene Counties “for the benefit of future generations.”

But it has not been all sunflowers in the last couple of weeks. As everyone else dusted off the regalia of their favorite football teams, I was watching U.S. Open tennis – the last major tournament of the year. I will not bore devoted pigskin fans with reports of lets and lobs and forehand shots.

I must, however, share my favorite vignette of the entire two-week contest. After a years-long drought in American women’s tennis, when Serena and Venus Williams were the only ones playing with consistent success, this year’s semi-finals featured four American women.

It was two twenty-something American girls, then, who met across the net as first-time Grand Slam finalists. Good friends off the court, Sloane Stephens and Madison Keys played hard, representing themselves and their country beautifully. In the end, Sloane won handily; but it was not only her gracious speech during the trophy ceremony I found memorable.

After waving to the crowd and hugging her mother, Sloane joined her friend and competitor on Madison’s side of the net. Waiting for postgame festivities, they celebrated together in joy and good spirits – laughing, sharing, enjoying a special camaraderie on a special day, behaving in that uninhibited, carefree way forty years of my students often behaved. My heart tinged with nostalgia, I felt privileged to witness such a remarkable brand of sportsmanship.

I consider it all to the good, too, when I learn a new word – as I did last weekend. During their trip to Pennsylvania, my sister and brother-in-law toured President Eisenhower’s farm in Gettysburg. During his presidency, the farm served as a weekend get-away, informal meeting place for dignitaries, and temporary White House as the 34th president recuperated from his 1955 heart attack.

President Eisenhower owned Angus cattle and showed a keen interest in the animals, perhaps even beyond that of a gentleman farmer, which he most certainly was. When my sister and her husband toured the barns, including a “loafing shed,” she recalled that our father once referred to the same structure on our River Road farm. All these years later, I can add a new noun to my list of words – “loafing shed: a building where cattle can range at will on a heavy bedding of straw during inclement weather conditions.”

Sometimes, however, I am confused by new uses for old words. There was a time when the words “gift” and “text” were used almost exclusively as nouns: “I received a lovely birthday gift” and “I read the complete text of his speech.” These days the words have morphed into verbs as we “gift” our children expensive toys and “text” our friends with weekend plans.

Then there is “hack.” Transitioning from slang for a cab driver to a raspy cough and on to computer misuse, “hack” can now refer to a helpful tip – as in “50 Hacks for the Kitchen.” I am having trouble keeping up!

At week’s end, an episode from the old Andy Griffith show returned me to my sunny sunflower perspective. When Opie wistfully lamented the emptiness of his bird cage, his father’s glass-half-full reply warmed my heart: “But don’t the trees seem nice and full.”

Here’s wishing everyone trees full of birds and fields full of sunflowers – facing the sunshine, of course!

By Shirley Scott

Shirley Scott, a 1966 graduate of Graham High School, is a native of Champaign County. After receiving degrees in English and German from Otterbein College, she returned to GHS in 1970 where she taught until retiring in 2010. From 1976-2001 she coordinated the German Exchange Program with the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe.

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