Less Guns. More Sunflowers.

How to respond. Considering the escalating violence over these past several months (hell, years), the abundance of easily accessible guns, the obscene and unimaginable amount of single and mass shootings around the world by lunatics in low and high places, the consequent loss of innocent men, women and children, and the subsequent knee-jerk, fear-based, nonsensical reactions of men—mainly men—in positions of power, but most definitely not leadership, I am convinced, more than ever, that the answer (well, at least one answer) is sunflowers.

Yes, this is a call to sunflowers. Arm yourselves, friends, with sunflowers. Sunflowers because they are stunning beauties, deeply rooted in American soil, spread around the world in various iterations, modified over millions and millions of years, and made more complex and vastly stronger because of their diversity. The sunflower’s origin is here, in the Americas, having settled and blossomed long before man set his dirty foot on the untilled soil of this country’s grainy plains and harvested the sunflower for sustenance. Long, long, long before anyone had ever imagined a pistol, a rifle, an uzi, a Sig Sauer, a Glock, an AR-15, and all the rage and destructive actions of those pulling the triggers.

Sunflowers because they symbolize the opposite: they are emblems of joy, gratitude and light. Because they face the sun. Because they radiate heat. Because they make us smile and make us cry when we can’t think of anything else that would comfort us. Because they are yellow. Yellow, yellow, yellow!

I remember the sunflowers of southern France (France, the ancestral home of my people), climbing the hills, their great big heads listing toward the sun, their long, lemony rays waving in the wind, and green leaves stretching out to the pink valley below. It is no surprise that Vincent van Gogh’s sunflowers of Arles, in the south of France, have become famous and priceless works of art. They are glossy and layered canvasses, visually stunning and uncommonly inviting. Van Gogh, however, also painted the sunflowers of Paris. Setting his easel up along the top of Montmartre’s butte, overlooking the city of lights, he dotted his pastoral path with a muted, mustardy flower enveloped by a flurry of green leaves, set against a violet sky. A path of sunflowers. A path. Against a violet (or is it violent?) sky. As if to say, This is the way, dot your passage, your course, with things that reflect the sun and contrast a shady backdrop, living things, things that alight, things that offer sustenance and beauty, things that counter all the things that are wrong with us, things that do not remind us of hate and divisiveness and rage and violence, things that, no matter how dark the storm, make us feel grateful to be on this glorious earth, because it is glorious, it is wondrous and filled—FILLED—with love.

What more do we need?

The sunflower, friends, does not only reflect the sun; it reflects us, at our shining best, aiding and encouraging others, taking care of those around us, spreading further what we can. Start at home, in your immediate circle, in your backyard, or out by the front gate. Obtain, first, the sunflower seeds (like Pom-Pom, Mammoth Russian, Red, Peach, Vincent Fresh, Munchkin, Stella Gold, Buttercream, Chocolate, Cherry Rose) from your local, independent garden shop (because you want to support your neighbors, you want a vital community). In the spring, plant them in your yard, plant them in a nearby field, and in a park, by a ball field, or along the grounds (you may want to ask permission) of a church or temple or mosque, where they can be seen and appreciated by many. Watch the birds and the bees fill themselves with the golden spiral’s goodness. When your sunflowers come to seed, begin to droop, and it is time to reap, leave some in the yard for the birds to feed on, cut others and pull the seeds from their receptacles. Give as many away as you please. Please. Share. Get the word out, and spread the seeds of comfort and love. That is a beginning, a  new beginning, and new beginnings we also need, we need them badly.

On Germination

Of his younger sister’s (Wilhemien) literary work—a piece on plants and rain—Vincent van Gogh wrote:

 You can see yourself that in nature many flowers are trampled underfoot, frozen or scorched, and for that matter not every grain of corn returns to the soil after ripening to germinate and grow into a blade of corn – indeed, that by far the greatest number of grains of corn do not develop fully but end up at the mill – isn’t this so? To compare human beings with grains of corn, now – in every human being who is healthy and natural there is a germinating force, just as there is in a grain of corn. And so natural life is germination. What the germinating force is to the grain, love is to us.


What the germinating force is to the grain, love is to us. I was thinking about germinating forces earlier this morning, as I peered into the brittle head—still bulging with seed—of this sunflower. Here, stubbornly anchored to the ground, you can see the force of which van Gogh wrote. The floret has gone to seed—either clinging to the disc, taken by the sparrow, or fallen to the ground (where, perhaps, taken by the goose), in which case it may end there, in some animalia digestive system. (Which is what happened this past spring at Franklin Farm, when the seeds were not buried deeply enough, and the birds, big and small, gobbled up the grain.)

On the other hand, should the seed make its way safely underground, we may see the sunflower, reincarnate, late summer next year. Overground, germinant, gold and giving.

What love is to us. Yes.

A Little Art Show

The local paper published a nice article about the art show I’m having at the Cumberland Public Library this month. On display are some of my photographs (some accompanied by tiny stories) that feature two special places (both town-owned open space) here in Cumberland, RI. I have written about both places, Franklin Farm and the Cumberland Monastery, during the last couple of years, but I’ve been photographing them for longer.

The exhibit is up for the entire month of September. Here’s a preview of my work:

The Cumberland Monastery

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Franklin Farm

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Much thanks to the Cumberland Public Library for hosting this exhibit.