Tuesday, July 10, 2007
Eulogy for a sunflower
It survived my brown thumb. It survived opportunistic ducks. It survived the half-barrel of doom. It survived my desire to cut it down before I knew what it was.
And yet it is no more, my yellow friend.
I planted a lot of sunflower seeds in peat pellets and let them sprout. They grew strong and swiftly, delighting me. When they were big enough, I transplanted them to out of doors.
The ducks ate their tender shoots within the hour.
One sunflower was slow to rise. When I transplanted it, later than the others, to the half oak barrel that had been there since before we moved in, which was volunteering some hideous profusion of wildflowers that choked out my lemon cucumber plants (drying up now with fruited vines for reasons I cannot diagnose, although everything around them thrives), slaughtered one of my two hot pepper plants, and stunted my eggplant.
I forgot about it because it seemed to die. Possibly it did die, and the one that grew was a seed that hadn't sprouted at all when I transplanted the peat pellet.
A horrible yellow flowering weed shot up on one side of the pot. We cut it down because it went mad and started killing the other flowers. It is growing back.
At about the same time, a fleshy, hairy, big-leaved thing arose in the middle of the barrel.
"It's a thistle" we told each other as it sent up a fist-shaped green, scaly pod. We considered cutting it down along with Old Yeller, but left it. "I want to see it bloom," I said. "The little birds might want the thistle seeds," Pat said.
It turned that pod inside out and became a sunflower. The bees loved it. It smelled gorgeous. Every day it changed.
The little birds-- fledgling goldfinches, and their parents, song sparrow fledglings and adults-- loved to land upon it. There is nothing more adorable than a baby bird devouring the leaves of your favorite surprise blossom, inches from your kitchen window... unless it is two, or three.
We could not look at it without thinking of the goldfinch babies.
Yesterday, when I came home for lunch, our yard was swarming with baby song sparrows, house finches, house sparrows, and goldfinches. The scrub jays were active and noisy. "The sunflower is drooping more than usual," Pat said. "I think it must be getting too heavy for itself."
"Nah, it's the little birds landing on it," I said. "We ought to splint it."
"Probably," Pat said. We'd had exactly this conversation before. It was a very droopy sunflower.
We watched wildlife. There were two ground squirrels in our little fenced back porch.
"I hate the squirrels," I said, as I always say. (Like many mammals, squirrels are dicks... they ruin it for everyone. They will ... well... squirrel away any food you put out for the birds. They don't eat it. They just steal it and hide it so that nobody else can eat it. And tree squirrels don't even remember where they bury their snacks! They have a host of other evil behavior, like faking the act of burying something, so that other squirrels starving for a nut and trying to dig up something someone else buried won't get anything at all. They're jerks.) Then I softened. "Ohh, he has speckles. Look at his white eye-ring! Look, that one's a baby-- he's got such a ratty little tail!"
Papa Bastard Squirrel had brought his more-than-two-but-who-knows-how-many offspring to our yard. What we did not know was that they were planning a route to the suet feeder that Pat had hung from the eaves in an attempt to allow the birds to get a little bit of it, before the Bastard Squirrel got it all.
That route led through my cucumber plants (okay, they're deceased but they are a labor of love), up the sunflower, and, as any mammal that could use its brain for anything but evil could tell you, right back down the sunflower as they bent over the stalk.
They did nibble it where it broke. They also ate some of the disk-like center of the flower and its ripening seeds, on the outside where they ripen first. They dug out petals and scattered them around the porch, like long yellow fairy canoes.
We splinted it, too late.
Now it's got a tangle tamer cast with plant stake splint, taped with red botanists' tie-tape and bright scarlet Duck Tape. We don't think it'll make it.
I hope the little birds won't stop landing on it just because of the splint. It will probably die and dry there, but maybe they can eat the seeds.
We loved our sunflower. Next year we must plant more and put the suet farther away. Nothing can take away the magical memory of baby goldfinches regarding us from the top of a flower inches from our window, but those durn squirrels sure tried.
What am I going to do with them?
* None of these pictures are mine... I'm lazy and bad and they're pretty, so there.