Sunflowers, Tomatoes & Rainbows
Pre-Post Note/ THANK you for all the comments in my last post!! Clearly I hit a topic that resonated with many of you, and I’m glad I could provide an outlet for that. I’m so humbled by everyone that added their part, and I’ll be answering each of your comments in detail (sorry I’m a bit behind). Thank you again!
I had a vision on Monday. Well, perhaps more like an image in my mind.
I was walking past sunflowers, huge fields of which are abloom in a blanket of brilliant yellow all over SW France this time of year, when I saw a rainbow. It was such a precise image, and so intense both visually and mentally that it made me stop in my tracks to reflect.
We’re well into July now, mid-way through this crazy year, and after months of dark and grey (in so many ways) we seem to be having a short, but definite little window of relief. The rainbow was a reflection of that, a brief sigh after a long, tense wait. I wonder, will it last?
I know things are very different in different countries of the world at the moment, with the virus and all (yeah, that thing again). But here in the rural SW France it feels like we’re in a blissful lull, where the stillness and heat of summer has slowed everything down, and time has stopped for a brief moment of reflection.
There have been no new reported cases in our area for weeks (yeah!!!), and around town it’s just us locals mingling, going to the market, and carrying on with our lives. The first summer get-togethers have started too, little gatherings at the local winery, music nights at the local resto and folks doing hikes and bikes. Things feel almost normal….for now.
It’s the rainbow on the horizon, and for the brief moment that it’s here I want soak it all in, while I can.
So this weeks post is about that. The little things that are giving me joy right now and bringing the sunlight into our lives; like sunflowers, tomatoes, get-togethers (we had our first!) and yes…. even rainbows. Sometimes dreams do come true, if only for a moment.
I think sunflowers are some of the happiest flowers.
They’re iconic here in the SW of France, with great fields of them that cover the hills every summer in a brief, but glorious bloom. It’s something I look forward to every July. In the heat of the hottest months, where greens have darkened, and a fuzzy haze often hangs in the air, the bright yellow blankets unfold over a period of several weeks, like the strokes of an impressionist painter bringing a grey canvas to life, and it’s a glorious sight.
Called “tournesol” (essentially, “turn-sun”) in French, the plants do track the sun for a while (heliotropism) when they’re young, giving a fascinating movement to the fields as the flowers dance slowly through the day. This is thanks to an internal circadian rhythm, that causes different sides of the stem to elongate at different times of day (see this in a video -> it’s cool, right?). But then they stop as they mature, parking themselves due East to be warmed exclusively by the morning sun.
This latter phase, when the flowers are still is when they are in their FULL glory.
At maturity they are at their largest and brightest, each head bursting with hundreds of tiny flowers (another fun fact), the stalks standing proud and strong in stunning yellow formation, like rays of the sun laid in the earth. It’s a brilliant, joyful yellow that warms your soul and lifts your spirit. I get the urge to don a long, flowing wrap dress and a large, floppy hat just so I can walk through the fields and pretend I’m in a romantic movie. I mean, doesn’t everyone?
But alas, like all beautiful things, their moment in the limelight is short-lived.
A few weeks after this glorious show the heads start to droop and the petals, once bright, yellow and strong, start to wither and brown. Most people don’t know that sunflowers are not harvested until most of their petals have dropped and they look almost dead. Frankly it’s not a good look and even worse, their culling is often accompanied by the dreaded harvest chiggers; nasty, almost invisible little beasts that crawl into your clothes and munch happily in little, red lines along your inner thighs and stomach. At the height of the harvest, it’s a daily battle to avoid the little invaders.
But sunflowers are oh-so-lovely while they are in bloom. I guess it’s the price we pay for their prettiness.
The other thing that makes me happy this time of year are tomatoes.
If there were a fruit equivalent of the sunflower, it would be the tomato. I’m not talking the wet, tasteless specimens you buy at the grocery store, that are about as far from the natural product as human over-processing can take them. No, I’m talking the intense, sun-ripened sweetness of a home-grown beauty. It’s red as the flames of a fire, warm as the rays of the sun, and it melts in your mouth with all the flavors of summer in a single bite.
We harvested the first one from our potager just a few days ago. We savored it as a family, carefully cut in three, drizzled with olive oil from a local farm, a pinch of fleur de sel from the famous salt marshes of Guérande, and a basil leaf cut in slivers, also from the garden. Just a few, select accents to highlight the natural product, and it was oh-so-crazy-deliciously-good. Honestly, there’s nothing like a home-grown tomato.
And there’s much more to come.
The teeny little plants that I bought for a mere €0.99 from the local nursery back in April are now almost 5 feet high with stems as thick as my thumb, and flowers abloom with the promise of many sweet, tasty harvests to come.
We planted them with a base of eggshells (a classic hack that releases calcium for root and leaf growth), banana peels (another classic hack, for potassium which aids continuous growth, photosynthesis and disease prevention), and we’ve been feeding them regularly (tomatoes are hungry plants) with a special bio tomato feed. Oh, and our final hack? We’re only watering them sparingly, barely once a week. It intensifies the flavor something crazy, a trick that I learned from a legendary tomato farmer down the way.
Thanks to all this, our little plants are doing beautifully. We’ve got 4 different types growing, and they’re all looking healthy and are producing well. I predict much more sun-ripened lip-smacking goodness ahead.
Which brings me back to that rainbow.
They say all things happen in threes, so it’s really no surprise that this did too. As I mentioned in the beginning of the post I first saw the rainbow in my mind as I was walking past some sunflower fields on Monday. It was a strong image that struck me out of nowhere, and lingered in my mind. I remember thinking at the time “man, that would make the perfect picture”.
And then incredibly, it happened.
The very next day as I was walking through the drizzle on my way to help out a neighbor, the sun suddenly broke through the clouds, bathing the sunflowers in light and conjuring the prismatic magic of a rainbow in the dark sky directly opposite it. WOW! The picture was there and it was stunning, exactly as I had imagined in my minds eye, but alas my camera was not. I stood in awe as the colors brightened to a crescendo and then dimmed and disappeared mere moments after. “noooooo, I missed it!!!”
And yet perhaps even more incredibly, all was not lost.
Somehow the universe was listening, or perhaps I was the one alert, but either way a few days later there was another storm. It was one of those blissful summer rains that rush through and cool the earth, like a refreshing shower after a sweltering hot day. As the rain slowed to a drizzle, the sun broke through and in that moment I knew. I ran out, camera in hand and there it was. A gorgeous, full double-rainbow painted in the sky, exactly like the two I had seen before.
What an absolute gift!
I rushed out the back door, and into the field of sunflowers behind our house and started clicking away, savoring the sweet smell of the earth fresh with rain, admiring the yellow petals against the dark sky, and the rainbow that seemed to almost glisten and cry.
It was perfect, and in that moment the world stopped in a sweet relief, much like our life, a reminder that good things do exist even in these times, and that nature’s beauty is unwavering. It’s a good lesson to remember.
We’ve Got The Message
Much like sunflowers, tomatoes and rainbows, I know this lull of ours (the virus lull I mean) likely won’t last.
So we’re starting slowly, but cautiously to venture out while we can. I wrote in detail about this in my post last week, so I won’t go through the deep stuff again, but I did want to share that we made the BIG step of going out to dinner at a friend’s house this week, our first social gathering with real people in 4 months (!!). It was an intimate affair with just two other couples, all people we knew who had been under lock-down like us. To be honest it felt odd and a bit uncomfortable to begin with, but it was also wonderfully liberating. I can’t deny I’ve missed spending time with people in real life.
This next week we’ll do the same with some French neighbors of ours just down the road. It going to be another small gathering with folks that we know, held outside at their place. Nothing crazy, no big parties, just a few mini-steps towards normality, while we can.
Because perhaps a few months from now, everything will be different once again.
With folks traveling for summer vacay, people mingling and tourists coming over to France in droves, we may well be looking at a second virus wave. Personally I think it’s a very high probability, although (hopefully) the wave can be managed this time around. Either way, it only amplifies the message that now is the time for us to enjoy that rainbow we’ve been gifted, and that brief period in time where the sun shines bright, and happy colors are everywhere.
Here’s hoping you find your rainbow too….
So my dear blog readers, let me know…where are you finding your personal rainbow now? I know some of you are in hot-spot areas, and others are still quarantining. Are you finding joy? DO share below! In these tough times I think we can all benefit from that.
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