Summer’s Flight

One last fling for a sunflower

Colored leaves drifting from maples, oaks, and sycamores may evoke the coming of autumn, but flowers also have an end; falling petals and withering leaves betoken changes to come. 

Given the amount of spider silk wrapped around this sunflower (Helianthus annuus), I assumed its apparently airborne rays still were attached to the plant. They may have been dragging a bit of silk behind them, but when I discovered them missing in the following frames, I realized the truth. However inadvertently, I’d captured a perfect illustration for Emily Dickinson’s gentle farewell to the season: a sunflower’s beautiful ‘light escape.’ 

As imperceptibly as Grief
The Summer lapsed away —
Too imperceptible at last
To seem like Perfidy —
A Quietness distilled
As Twilight long begun,
Or Nature spending with herself
Sequestered Afternoon —
The Dusk drew earlier in —
The Morning foreign shone —
A courteous, yet harrowing Grace,
As Guest, that would be gone —
And thus, without a Wing
Or service of a Keel
Our Summer made her light escape
Into the Beautiful.
                                               Emily Dickinson

Comments always are welcome.

58 thoughts on “Summer’s Flight

  1. A mathematician would reason like this: “It’s a fact that the wind sometimes blows aging ray florets off a flower head. That may happen only rarely, but the probability isn’t zero. Therefore, the more often an observer goes out in nature, the more likely the observer is to see the wind blow aging ray florets off a flower head.” Even so, when we actually do luck out and see it—and what’s more, get a split-second photograph of it—it’s exciting.

    1. When I began sorting through the day’s images on the computer, this one certainly surprised me. I’d been focused more on the variety of insects visiting the sunflowers than on the plant itself, so when I realized what I’d captured, I hardly could believe it. At the time I wondered, “What are the odds?” As you say, the probability wasn’t zero, and it is exciting.

  2. Well done, Emily! Summer is slowly fading here and the signs are all around. Fall is about to gain the upper-hand as it does every year and we will look forward to its many delights without the oppressive heat of summer, to which I bid farewell with a sigh of relief.

    1. Most people here share your sense of anticipation. In our case, there’s an even sharper sense of relief, given that we seem to have made it through hurricane season without an unwelcome visitor. There’s still time for a storm to come a-calling, but the window is closing. The thought of cooler temperatures and fall flowers certainly brings a smile.

    1. This is one of my favorite Dickinson poems. I always imagine her standing in her garden with a first phrase or two coming to mind; she certainly caught the beauty of seasonal transition.

    1. We experience that back-and-forthing, too. One of my least favorite times of early fall is after we’ve had our first truly cold front, and then it turns summer again. We get accustomed to the heat and humidity during the summer months, but once we get a taste of that lovely fall weather, no one wants to go back. Impatience rules!

    1. It was a serendipitous experience, in the truest sense of the word. I’ll bet you know Horace Walpole’s role in the creation of the word, not to mention the role of the Three Princes of Serendip. I may have to drag out my post about that — it’s a wonderful story. Thanks for reminding me of it!

    1. Isn’t that sense of motion something? I see a bird in the blowing petals. Can’t you imagine their excitement over getting to fly after weeks of being attached to the plant?

  3. You consistently demonstrate the principle Steve espoused above. The more we go the more we see.

    I totally empathize with how you could miss a flower petal releasing from its mooring while you studiously search for a spider among all that webbing. How many times have I done such a thing? We shall never know.

    Thank goodness Emily did not reside here in central Florida! Summer’s light escape may have escaped her notice as we are slowly transitioning from our “Green” season to our “Brown”.

    1. Woody Allen may have gotten it right when he said, “Eighty percent of success lies in showing up.” Of course the searching and the looking are important, but at minimum getting up off our duffs and getting ‘out there’ is the necessary first step — as you and Gini well know!

      Your mention of your green and brown seasons reminds me of dry time and rain time in Liberia. During the dry time, everything gets coated with laterite dust. By the time the rains come around again, the refreshment they bring is considerable.

      Oddly, one of the first hints of autumn here often comes on an east wind, as smoke from sugar cane burning in Louisiana drifts in. I didn’t realize that there were cane fields in Florida, too, until a friend spent some time on his boat in Moore Haven and sent back bemused reports of ash on the deck.

    1. All congratulations should go to the sunflower. It’s the one that put on the show–one that I didn’t even know was happening at the time. Thank goodness for cameras!

  4. Love that photo! It always make me a little sad to see sunflowers bow their heads in submission to summer’s end and lose their petals. But I do get excited to know fall is on its way by that sign.

    1. On the other hand, those same sunflowers are entering a different but equally important phase of their lives. Think of all the seed they’re producing to feed the birds and other little creatures who can’t go to the grocery store for their meals! I love seeing the sunny blooms, but the sight of a finch feeding on a sunflower head is just as appealing to me.

  5. What a lovely capture! Still, there’s something almost sad about the end of summer. Not that I’m not happy to see autumn roll around (it is, after all, my favorite season!), but the ending of summer always strikes me as “for real.” Not like the ending of winter, for example, which strikes me as more of a beginning. Does that make any sense?

    1. It sure does. I’m never sad to see summer end, but that’s mostly because we endure summer the way northerners endure winter. There comes a point when it seems to have gone on entirely too long, and there’s a real hunger for change. But autumn is the end of any number of natural cycles, and I suppose that might be part of the reason it often feels nostalgic; there’s a reason so many people start humming “September Song”.

    1. Dickinson’s ‘light escape’ is interesting, since so many people consider the change from summer to fall to be an escape from the beautiful. I’m glad you enjoyed the poem; I was glad to have it to pair with the photo.

    1. And I just read our ten day forecast: more 90 degree days, with the usual humidity stirred in. Still, that takes us much nearer the end of September, so a change will come. It seems even this sunflower was eager to catch a breeze, whatever the season.

  6. Sometimes the universe conspires to put you at the right place at the right time with the right stuff. To catch a flower literally unraveling before your eyes, as the wheel of the year turns and the summer begins to gently fall to pieces around you.

    1. And some images come as pure gift. While I was in pursuit of spiders and bumblebees, the flower casually did its own thing, unnoticed until hours later. It does raise a question worth pondering: what else is happening while we’re otherwise occupied?

    1. If I’d gone out with my camera thinking, “Today I want to capture the image of a falling petal,” my sense is that the chances of doing so would have been zero. It’s rather like finding a cardinal feather. They must be out there, but in all my years of looking I’ve never come across one.

    1. Isn’t it great? Nature’s always getting up to something. It’s impossible to predict what’s just around the corner — or what will be floating on the breeze.

    1. As we so often say, sometimes we get lucky. If I hadn’t upped my shutter speed while chasing a bumblebee, my little floral ‘bird’ never would have been in any sort of focus.

  7. My photographer friend Wally Parshall (who was both lucky AND good) once said, “I’d rather be lucky than good,” when referring to photographing a scene where the light or breeze is a factor. You were lucky AND good, just like Wally, in catching this beautiful petal — and wise enough to find the perfect words with which to illustrate it.

    1. I remember you mentioning Wally. He’s right that luck’s a very real part of the equation. And sometimes I’m surprised by what the camera can do. In this case, the camera did the heavy lifting — without my even realizing what it was up to. Of course we see petals flying in spring, or leaves in autumn, but I’d never thought to try to capture one. Now, I may give it a go if I come across pretty leaves and a stiff wind.

    1. Often enough, I’ll find insects of one sort or another tucked into a plant once I look at the scene on the computer, but this was of a different order entirely. I’m a little surprised I didn’t notice the petals blowing around, since thistle and milkweed fluff usually catches my attention, but I was glad that my camera noticed!

  8. “Summer made her light escape…”, a lovely phrase, and perfectly paired with this photo. They say “luck favors the prepared”, and it certainly did here. Wonderful!

    1. Apparently luck not only favors the prepared, it also can favor the totally oblivious! For that, I’m more than grateful. As for Emily Dickinson, a good bit of her work escapes me, but her lightly-escaping summer made for a perfect line.

  9. Linda, this post reminds me of the eternal flow of the seasons. The ebb and flow of nature resembles a creation’s steady river. Dickinson’s moving verses are a perfect ending to the end of summer.

    1. That flow is part of what makes the seasons so enjoyable. There’s always an opportunity to look forward to what’s to come, and the pleasure of looking back at what has been.

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