Monday, June 6, 2016

Seeing a bright spot in faded flowers

The fields of sunflowers that I planted four months ago have faded.

Thick stalks — once so straight and tall — now bow beneath the weight of burgeoning seedheads. Instead of smiling at the sky, the few remaining flower heads turn their attention downward as if scanning the ground for fertile loam, a sprout-supportive home for future plants.

Sunflowers bend beneath the weight of burgeoning seedheads 

A field of past-prime sunflowers is not the prettiest sight. Wind and weather have taken their toll. Golden petals have faded, ripped and curled. Some flower petals have fallen off. Once-green leaves are brittle and brown. And yet, this stooped over assemblage of stalwart seedheads makes me smile. While others might look upon the aged plants and see a faded reminder of floral beauty, I see the manifestation of hope and possibilities realized.

The sunflower seeds I haphazardly tossed onto torn up ground in mid-February are living proof that difficult problems can be solved — if not completely, at least in part.

In previous columns, I have written about the problems my husband Ralph and I encountered when feral hogs invaded our rural south Lake County property. 

One of many large feral hogs that have discovered our property

Over the last couple years, wild swine have moved onto our land, wreaking havoc in the process. Before they discovered us, the only holes we had were small mounds and shallow impressions of inconsequential impact to the land made by armadillos, gopher tortoises or moles.

Feral pigs, on the other hand, went hog wild. Porcine snouts, cloven hooves and 200-pound bodies dug, rutted and rolled their way through expansive swaths of lakeshore vegetation. In the process of foraging for food and taking mud baths in the muck, the persistent porkers uprooted grasses and wetland plants, leaving behind an ugly, uneven mess.

Feral hogs have uprooted large swaths of landside wetland 

It was very upsetting. Not only did I dislike the way the disturbed shoreline now looked, I was afraid unwanted plants would take root in the exposed soil. Fortunately, a chance stop at a nursery supplier yielded a potential solution. A display of slightly damaged bags of sunflower seeds caught my eye. I purchased a discounted 25-pound bag and set to work. Instead of thinking of the wayward porkers as adversaries, I decided to consider them assistants. They would turn the soil. I would plant it.

Off and on for several days I threw handfuls of sunflower seeds on the ground. I didn't rake them in, water the ground or plant the seeds in lines. I simply stumbled over the messy mounds of exposed soil, tossing seeds here and there. At first nothing happened. Then, a couple weeks later, a flush of sunflower sprouts appeared. I was so excited — and a little worried. What if the hogs came back just as the sunflowers were starting to grow? They'd surely destroy them.

The same ground depicted above after sowing sunflower seeds:
 Flush with flowers 

After much thought I decided to let that worry go. If the hogs destroyed the young plants, so be it. I'd find another fix. Fortunately, I didn't have to seek out a new solution. The hogs stayed away. The sunflowers grew tall and beautiful. Butterflies landed on them. So did birds. Instead of looking out at damaged ground and feeling despair, my eyes rested easy on fields of sunny flowers. Their bright, cheery faces filled me with joy.

Even though the sunflowers have since faded, the joyfulness remains. So does hope. New plants will soon sprout out of seeds dropped to the ground by birds, squirrels and the by the bent-over plants themselves.

An old adage says, "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade," but I have a new version. "When wild hogs dig up weeds, sow seeds!"

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