Margaret and Dick   


July 2012: Sunflower safari

Ah, sunflower season!  The giant eye-popping flaming-yellow blooms cover enormous fields around the Aude, reminiscent of the poppy field in The Wizard of Oz.  The sunflowers are a great cash crop for farmers, a winning backdrop for the Tour de France, and eye-candy for the locals.

Each year the sunflower season grabs us as strongly as on our first visit to Limoux in 1996.  We never tire of it, and each time seems as fresh and new and wonderful as the first.  Better, even.    
   Young flowers turn to follow the sun each day (hence the French name tournesol, or turn to the sun), but mature flowers tend to face east.  The green stems sport blooms that can be the size of dinner plates.  When flowers pass their peak, the yellow petals fall and the central seedy portion grows darker, losing its color.  At maturity they are left to stand for weeks until the blackened stems and flowers look like something out of a Tim Burton movie.  Finally they are harvested, seeds are extracted, and the oil pressed and bottled.
   We carefully calculate the timing for our annual sunflower safari, keeping an eye out for this year’s perfect field at its perfect moment.  We each have dozens of photos from previous years, even after rigorous weeding.  It’s not that we will find the perfect sunflower for the perfect photo – art is a process, not a product, after all – but the act is a reward in itself. 
  And a challenge.  Long pants and sleeves are in order.  The flowers themselves are prickly, the fields are often surrounded by stinging nettles – not a mistake that you would make twice – and there is always the possibility of falling into a ditch during the quest.  

This year the colors seem more intensely flaming yellow-orange than ever.  More rain?  More sun?  A different brand of seed?  Or is it just that we have fresh eyes after a winter without sunflowers?

   “I found the perfect field, and it’s right at peak,” said Margaret.  We grabbed the cameras and headed for the field at the base of hilltop village Fanjeaux.  We scrambled over ditches, climbed a hill into the field, hiked around for the best perspective, squeezed between rows of flowers taking care not to trample them.  Click.  Different angle, different perspective, different field.  Click.  
  Drivers passing buy shout out to us – they know exactly what we are doing – “Photo!  Photo!  Sunflowers!”  Perhaps the scene becomes banal if you’ve lived here your entire life.  But for us in our seventeenth summer, it’s all fresh.

After an hour or so our eyes are saturated.  Days of triage and photo-editing follow.  By the time the edit session is done and photos are posted to Flickr, our sunflower passion has subsided – until next year.  

You can see Margaret’s sunflower collection on Flickr here

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