Sunflower and Soil

I planted some sunflowers earlier in the spring – a patch here; a patch there, dispersed haphazardly. They took their spaces – some in the privileged field-side patch, some in the amenable granary east border, and some in the cold, unlikely bed of rocky ground by the workshop, in the shadow of the black locust, neighbored obnoxiously by boisterous dock. One-by-one, they looked to their future all. They were not prepared for what lay ahead.

In times of sudden and profound change, what choice have we but to question the meticulously crafted structure of assumptions we choose to call ourselves. Father, friend, farm co-owner, husband, son, writer… One by one, night after long night, lines appear in the list and the structure reshapes itself again. And again. Closer and closer to nothing, to everything.

And what, then, is strong enough to carry and foster life itself? From what cold medium of the dead do the trees of life rise? On what foundation does the garden stand?

It got cold a couple of nights after the sunflowers were planted. Really cold. One-by-one, the stems yellowed and doubled over; leaves curling and drooping into death. I watched it happen rapidly, that transition. From mining soil to becoming it. A worthy and necessary transition – – a giving-in to circumstances real and unavoidable.

Where would I be if I were no longer to be here, on this farm, in this house? Who would I be if I left this community? What are the essentials, the inextricables? Who are the essentials, the inextricables? Who am I going to call, right now? What am I going to say? Can you die from pain? Where does my foundation lie?

The funny thing is that one sunflower did not succumb to the transition. Day after day, I watched her yellow stem resist the relentless pull of gravity towards her demise. Placed in the hostility of a gravelly base, crowded by tree and brush, trampled by dog and leash, and shaded from the sun, she brashly and stubbornly occupied her space in the foundation, mined her tiny patch of rocky earth and became green. I tried not to watch; not to care. It will only die. But my affinity for that simple stem and leaf has far surpassed that of any plant, wild or otherwise, which has since seeded and sent beautiful flowers forth. Just a simple straight stem and some leaves, in the middle of nowhere.

As the cold night drags on, assumptions and identities have extricated themselves from truth. Farther have I fallen, all the way to that level of infallibility; the foundation on which I’ve stood and which has nurtured my very life all this time. This cold layer of crushed rock which sits atop all of the endless miles and tons of other rock; that which we call Soil. The only foundation strong enough to carry life. If one relentless Sunflower can yet mine her space and grow against each set of odds, drawing forth life from the foundations of death, then there must yet be hope.

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