Something beautiful tumbled into place

A certain kind of wonderment was happening. There, at the foot of my second-story deck that opened east onto the Green Mountains in the Valley of Vermont stood sunflowers, three-, four-, and five-feet tall. Three times, my computer keys spelled "funflowers."

The gaggle of girls (I see them as feminine) wiggled and waggled, their cluster of broad faces, drinking in the sun. They swayed with the wind, bent with the rain, and turned to the sun to absorb as much light as possible. They asked nothing of me but to be enjoyed and perhaps to protect them from beetles and drought. At least that's what I did.

The first time these flowers arrived, I didn't have a clue as to their origin. I had never envisioned sunflowers beneath my feet. I thought sunflowers belonged only to fields in the south of France, immortalized by Van Gogh. I sometimes saw them, cut, in vases, or in other people's gardens. I didn't think of them in mine.

But there they were in all their green, brown, and golden splendor. As it happened, I grew up on Nancy Drew mystery stories from the library. I put two and two together: The aptly named blossoms were a happy result of seed that had fallen from the bird feeder a dozen feet above. For months I had dutifully been filling it with black-oil sunflower seeds, "preferred seed of most Northeastern songbirds," according to the package.

From dawn to dusk, birds swung in and dined. Sometimes there was a single bird; at other times, two and three or even six and seven perched on the feeder, railings, and floor. Sometimes they were all the same, sometimes a mix - in yellow, blue, red, brown, and gray; goldfinches, doves, nuthatches, black-capped chickadees, and tufted titmice. They alighted and quit in aerodynamic piloting that would have dazzled NASA engineers.

Competing for position, they dipped into the sunflower seeds with elegance and efficiency, breaking nugget from hull. Blue jays held the seeds in their claws to peck them open. Ground feeders sent seeds flying, laying a picnic on the grass.

Unbeknownst to me, these feathered creatures were seeding the soil with beauty. Such was not a garden by design, sought by desire for color or texture. Instead, they planted themselves by gravity, extracted nutrients from the soil, and stoked chlorophyll with the chemistry of water and light.

The flowers gave bees, birds, and insects a feast, and they gave me hope.

The next year the sunflowers came back, in greater number, in continued beauty. I put a little white metal fence around them, not to domesticate, but to create a bright guideline for the lawn mower.

July turned into August. Autumn hovered. The sunflowers laid bare the kernels of their husks to hungry birds. And then, with the closing months of the calendar year, they were gone.

But they were not forgotten, not their loveliness, nor their many engagements with the vertebrate world, nor their gift of coming unbidden, filling an unidentified want.

How often does something that falls arise in vibrant life? How often does something beautiful tumble into place? Maybe more often than I'd noticed.

I know time will not come back, restoring missed opportunities. Yet, weather willing, my sunflowers will return, volunteering to rise again to the light.

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