A Case for Sunflowers

Sunflowers, Vincent Van Gogh

Sunflowers, Vincent Van Gogh

There’s something about arriving in a new city at night if you’ve never been there before. The darkness swallows up all the big details, leaving some outlines, and mostly shading. The outlines and shading of most U.S. cities are eerily similar. They all have the same lonely 7-11, on the same poorly lit corner. It’s the same pile of gray and green and pink trash laying there, next to the trashcan outside the doors. In every city there’s something faintly different about them.

In California they have neat little plants by the doors, with trash shoved into the planters. In Nevada, Arizona, and all those “Old West” states there’s a moat of jagged rocks, which also usually holds a lot of trash. In Denver they’re more weathered, smoothed by winter winds and bleached in July’s blaze. They’re friendlier too. In Texas they’re bigger, and in New York they’re louder – and so on and so on.

Last July I found myself in Denver airport sometime after 10 pm, with a nearly 24 hour layover. Initially I had resolved to spend that time in the airport, then the reality of spending 24 hours in a truly massive airport set in.

Tired, sore and wanting nothing more than to lay in a real bed for the first time in 2 weeks I called a shuttle to The Fairmount Inn and waited impatiently for the 5 minutes it took to arrive. The city was dark, and felt faintly familiar and at once totally alien. Then I was on the shuttle, speeding down the highway with those same green and white road signs, the same alerts of what could be found off of the next exit. A McDonald’s, a BP, maybe the elusive Arby’s.

Before I knew it was stretched out on the bed, with what little I could scavenge for something of a meal from the hotel’s small selection. Spicy shrimp Ramen and Twix, a feast of kings. But I lay there feeling better than I had in a long time. Free, deliciously alone, comfortable. I soaked in my independence thirstily. I talked to my husband on skype, and I went to bed.

I woke up and had to think for a moment where I was.

Smooth sheets, heavy blanket, blue armchair. Denver. Yes, Denver.

I pulled on clothes and padded outside to have a smoke on the back patio area that I had been directed to the night before. Then it had been dark. The only light was the yellowed and dim sconce clinging to the wall near the entrance. It’s light didn’t even make it to the parking lot. Now it was 9 am, and the sky was that perfect sky you see in every picturesque painting. A pale, creamy blue with 3 or 4 white clouds fluffed right in. Below that sky lay a miles long field of sunflowers in full bloom.
I dropped my phone, and I cried. This might sound silly, or incredibly melodramatic – but it was one of those “I needed it” cries that feels so good to have freed. It made a 24 hour layover, the 150 dollar hotel room, and all the hassle feel like a good deal.

They owned the horizon, an expanse all trimmed in yellow. Back dropped by a mountain range to the left and a red and white barn to the right. In that moment I felt some small connection with Van Gogh, I saw some little glimmer of what made these flowers a fixture of his. These flowers were special. Tall and strong and dominating. They couldn’t just be pulled from the yard, or trampled by careless feet. In a world of frail and delicate flowers, easily broken by circumstances and change, the sunflower is different. It can weather the storm, adapt to change, and stand through the winds. I wanted to be a bit more like the sunflower.