"It's as if a great bird lives inside the stone of our days and since no sculptor can free it, it has to wait for the elements to wear us down, till it is free to fly." Mark Nepo

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Sunflower

Every summer we let one sunflower grow in the bird area: a volunteer that survives hungry birds, no water and the baking we do beforehand so that the seeds won't sprout. We pull every other seedling except for the one, and it gets to stay based entirely on how we think it will fit in with the rest of the area.

This year's grew quickly, as sunflowers seem to, a long gangly stem with no evidence of flower for weeks and weeks. Then one day I saw a flash of golden yellow through the leaves of the sweet gum tree it had grown up into. Even though I had said I wouldn't, and I have a really hard time trimming any part of a tree away, I did trim just enough so that the sunflower could easily turn its shaggy face to the sun. And so that I could enjoy the explosion of what looks like an entire flock of goldfinches radiating from that particular green that is summer's signature.

Sitting on the patio with iced tea and a book at hand, Toby chasing swallow shadows in the yard, my eyes rest on the sunflower. I'm grateful for the distraction from the distress I'm feeling about the rapid advance of a new school year. And then I realize my entire summer is contained in that one sturdy flower.

There were no huge trips for us this summer as we're saving for the next big adventure. I was prepared to sort of suffer through and make the best of the sacrifice in the name of delayed gratification. As it's turned out, this has been one of the best summers I can remember. Simple. Sunny. And oh so satisfying.

Like the sunflower, my summer developed spontaneously. There was a loose plan, but much was left open. What happened in the open spaces is of course what made these last weeks so wonderful.

Also like the sunflower, at the center there was a pattern I couldn't really see until recently, and that I can take no credit for creating. That Mysterious design at the center of everything that I all too often forget exists.

The seedling at the center of our summer was new carpet upstairs, a trip to Ashland to see two plays, a writing class for me, and a golf trip for Walt.

The new carpet meant clearing out everything from upstairs where Walt's office, the tv room and our guest room are. A space where for twenty years we've added many things and taken away nothing, including several bookcases full of books. In the process of moving things downstairs, we decided not to move anything back upstairs we didn't really want. You see where this is going, right? Loads to Good Will. Boxes and boxes of pictures and mementoes sorted and sifted. An empty guest room that we decided to paint which led to new trim and a new door and new messes downstairs needing attention.

Our trip to Ashland, home of a world-class Shakespeare Festival, exceeded my expectations. The plays were a delight, the country gorgeous, the company of my husband a comfortable pleasure. A moment in the midst of those days stands out as one that will provide a window to wonder even in the darkest days of winter.

On our drive back to the condo late at night after one of the plays, I asked Walt to pull over. We got out of the car and stood in warm desert air with no sound but our breathing and no light at all. Except for the amazement of sky overhead. I haven't seen the spill of the Milky Way that white or broad since childhood summers sleeping outside in rural North Idaho. The entire sky looked like a mythical god child had spilled an economy-sized container of glitter. Stars shone all the way to the edges of the sky.

The five week writing class got me writing again, and helped me answer again the question of whether I'm really a writer and whether it really matters if I write. Walt's golf trip gave me a week home alone, a gift in itself.

So here's what grew from that basic seedling of summer into a glorious bright flower with enough light to cut through even the darkest of shadows: frequent walks with friends (how did I get so lucky to have this richness in friendship?) which also meant frequent heartfelt conversations; two antique sales held with a friend; a second trip to Ashland, this time with a friend, and as fun and satisfying as you might imagine a road trip with a sister friend might be; a weekend hiking trip with two brothers, a beloved SIL, and Walt, through 9 miles of beach and Olympic Peninsula lushness;  a long hike in a state park with another friend where we talked nonstop and saw 10 waterfalls in the five hours we took to complete the loop; a weekend with one brother spent antiquing and enjoying our adult friendship; movies holding hands with Walt in the dark while improbable but entertaining stories spun out across giant screens; long long hours doing nothing at all beyond reading and resting and playing with Toby and Alex and Bunkie.

There's more and at that you probably skimmed past most of that list. Because it's the pattern in the whorled seeds of the sunflower that matters, not looking at each individual seed. A pattern that shows a life full of friends and family and freedom and fun. A life bursting with lights of love.

My life as a teacher of ten-year-olds in public school resumes next week when I go in to set up my room for the twenty-fifth time. Meetings start the following week and the first day with kids is the next week. I will love the kids and I'm excited that this year for the first time I will only teach writing (to all 100+ fifth-graders). The future is bright, even though it's one I'd rather not step into. I look forward to the next season's sunflower surprises, even as I continue to drink in this summer's, hoping to fill myself to the brim and overflowing.



21 comments:

Terri Tiffany said...

I thought of you yesterday and was pleased to hear from you today. Your summer sounds delicious! All that time with friends--oh how I love that part. And getting rid of things--my kind of work. So excited to see what this next year brings both of our ways. Love being along on your journey.

Pam said...

Face to the light of the warming sun. Such a lovely post Deb.
These are the sort of days I've always thought you deserved. May you long bask in health and happiness. Even the saddest of experiences makes us stronger,-I know you've been there - and your strength comes through in this post. Your students will be very fortunate to have you in their lives.

Retired English Teacher said...

You are the master of metaphor. "Like the sunflower, my summer developed spontaneously." Your writing always amazes me.

I'm so glad your summer was just what it needed to be: restful, rejuvenating, restorative, and reflective.

Those fifth graders are very fortunate to have you, but I shutter to think of the papers that 100 fifth graders will generate. You are a brave lady.

Stacy Crawford said...

I'm looking forward to my kids coming too...on August 20th.

DJan said...

Now that I'm retired, I find it difficult to imagine what it must be like to gear up for another year in the classroom. I am so looking forward to seeing you in October, and learning more about your journey forward. Blessings, dear Deb! :-)

Deb said...

It sounds lovely, your summer. Peaceful and rejuvenating.

kario said...

I am so pleased that your summer played out this way and that, as always, you discovered and appreciated its gifts.

In the beginning of her sixth grade year, Eve's math teacher brought in sunflower heads to teach the kids about the Fibonacci sequence and expose them to a little bit of the wonder of nature and its patterns. They were encouraged to go out that weekend and find more examples of order and plan in the world and it was such a powerful experience. I will forever look at sunflowers differently.

Sending you love and light.

Linda Myers said...

Lovely, reflective post, as usual. So good to read!

BLissed-Out Grandma said...

Your summer sounds wonderful. I am quite sure you have such a richness of friends and family because you are a good friend and family member! I love your use of sunflower as metaphor. I hope the coming school year is rewarding as well.

Richard Hughes said...

Sounds like the kind of summer you needed. Too bad it has to come to an end. Don't spend you school year wishing it were summer, though. Try living the 9 months one day at a time. Next summer will be here before you know it.

yaya said...

Your class will love you and your writing talent will be a wonderful opportunity for them to learn from the best! Heck, I want to be in the class! I could read what you write all day. Enjoy your final summer days!

patricia said...

What I love about this post:
How you personified the sunflower.
That I am one of the walking friends.
That you can see the beauty in the "less is more" of your summer.
That you have enjoyed rest and cleaning and clearing out that helps us keep going.
And, of course, I love YOU! When are we walking again?

patricia said...

What I love about this post:
How you personified the sunflower.
That I am one of the walking friends.
That you can see the beauty in the "less is more" of your summer.
That you have enjoyed rest and cleaning and clearing out that helps us keep going.
And, of course, I love YOU! When are we walking again?

Teresa Coltrin said...

I'm with you on heading back to school next week.

You have had a busy summer, but it sounds like fun. I'm glad you're writing again. Very important for various reasons: therapy, your talent shouldn't be squashed, and all those empty journals :).

Lastly, my favorite thing is every other year some of the farmers, near me, plant fields of sunflowers. I LOVE them.

Dee said...

Dear Deb, Alleluia!!! Peace.

Laura said...

so happy you allowed summer seedlings to grow at will... often the most beautiful experiences blossom that way!

Celinda said...

Gorgeous!

Heidrun Khokhar, KleinsteMotte said...

Love your use of the sunflower as a means to an end!
I managed to teach 25 years but had to call it quits then. Health gave out and I was unable to give it my all. You are a very insightful teacher from what I read. May this new year be another one of growth for you and your pupils.

Heidrun Khokhar, KleinsteMotte said...

What a lovely way to make use of a sunflower!
It is clear that you will be heading for another year of growth with new students. The new set up will bring new challenges as it will create a different kind of bonding, less intense. May you have a great year.
I just love your writing style!

Sandi said...

Hey Deb,
I can't believe I've missed so many posts! I guess it's time to get back in the saddle again! I loved everything about this post, and many of the previous comments as well. I am in awe of your writing gifts. Love you!

Sandi said...

Hey Deb,
I can't believe I've missed so many posts! I guess it's time to get back in the saddle again! I loved everything about this post, and many of the previous comments as well. I am in awe of your writing gifts. Love you!