AN ESSAY FOR THE DAY: Fanfare for the Sunflower

“I don’t think there’s anything on this planet that more trumpets life than the sunflower,” says one of the characters in “Calendar Girls,” a movie from 2003. “For me that’s because of the reason behind its name — not because it looks like the sun but because it follows the sun.”

Continues the character, “During the course of the day, the head tracks the journey of the sun across the sky. A satellite dish for sunshine. Wherever light is, no matter how weak, these flowers will find it.

“And that’s such an admirable thing. And such a lesson in life.”

Such an astute observation has not been lost here in the Appalachian foothills amidst newly tilled garden plots, temporary raised beds, solar power experiments and rainwater banking.

There were half-a-dozen sunflowers growing in the perimeters of those raised beds at one point. But they had become so large — and so overshadowing of the cucumbers, green beans, onions, spinach, carrots and celery — that three had to be eliminated long before they began to form their “satellite dish” tops.

Which only emboldened the survivors. Benefiting from nearly full exposure from sunup to sundown — not to forget that already-rich soil amended regularly with mushroom manure — those sunflowers have made Jack’s beanstalk look the piker.

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Three months after their seeds were sown, these sunflowers’ sun-following, seed-heavy heads, rest atop 15-foot-plus stalks. They’re losing, or already have lost, most of their yellow petals. The remaining seed pods are as big as large wagon wheels. The plant stalks are as thick as mountain-bike tires.

It’s only a matter of time before marauding birds begin their sorties to harvest those seeds. And one can only imagine, given their robust nature, that chipmunks and squirrels soon will begin to scale those stalks.

Perhaps it would be more hospitable of the gardener to take a saw to those beefy green rods to harvest the heads and make their foraging easier. But such majestic beauties deserve better than that.

Thus, as long as they can stand on their own stalks, the heads will not be disturbed by human hands. After all, nature went to such lengths to deliver these sun worshipers, who am I to silence their trumpets?

Colin McNickle, the retired editorial page editor of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, now is a senior fellow and media specialist at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy. He began his journalism career at local newspapers and radio stations. A 1976 graduate of Martins Ferry High School, he grew up in Colerain.