by Josée Methot
“Can you remember a time when you experienced awe?”, asked my friend.
My heart jumped: “yes, of course.” The sunflowers.
As if on replay, my mind formed the image: my mother in her garden, her short frame delicate against towering sunflowers; their big bobble heads bouncing against the late summer sky. I was a kid and I was mesmerized.
These weren’t just plants — they were giants. There was a village of giants in my backyard, and my mother was their overall-clad keeper. It was a ragtag group of characters. There was a clique of perfect sunflowers with great posture (the snobs), a thicket of ragged and lumpy ones (the ogres), a lion with a big yellow mane (Simba from the Lion King), and a small peeking meerkat (Timon, his friend). My favourite was dumpy and stooped but had real character — a late era Marlon Brando, charming as ever.
Yellow, orange, lean, thick; I was in awe of them all. I would trace the spirals of their seeds and ponder how things so small could ever get so big.
Much later I would learn about the Fibonacci sequence, “sacred geometry”, and all of that — about how the number of swirling spirals on a sunflower’s face could follow the Fibonacci sequence, where every number is a sum of the previous two (1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, …). But as a kid I got the gist immediately.
Something else was at play with these sunflowers — some strange confluence of biology and magic. To my mother, the sunflowers were totems of sorts. Things were tough at home then. She had just gone through a messy divorce, cheques were bouncing, and my brother and I were shrieking nincompoops. The sunflowers were her refuge, the dirt a haven. Our backyard giants became canvasses onto which she could paint meaning, as she worked through the questions that arise when life doesn’t go your way. With sunlight, the sunflowers were slowly turning her troubles into sugar; into pillars reaching toward solace.
She kept one sunflower from that year’s record haul and laid it on a patterned cloth. She lugged it all over for years, moving it from rental unit to rental unit. It was a weird constant in topsy turvy times. I grew to resent it. That dead plant was treated better than most farm cats. It left botanical entrails on the floor whenever we moved it. It was the dirty roommate. But I’m starting to come around now. Those sunflowers were our friends at a time when we really needed some brightness. That dead plant was family.
Josée is a watershed specialist based in Alberta, Canada, where she works on a range of water and land use issues. She is still trying to grow the garden of sunflowers of her dreams. She tweets at @Josee_Methot.