By Deb Matlock
A few years ago, we tore out the grass in our front yard and populated the area with native wildflowers and edible plants. Since then, it has become clear that the native sunflowers were poised and ready to occupy the entire garden…not overly concerned for who was getting shaded by their leaves or for the fact that they created a forest in our front yard, obscuring the view of the street from the front windows (much to the dismay of our dogs).
Early and unexpected spring rains here in Colorado this year also helped the sunflowers set up residence and grow, grow, grow so quickly that by early summer, most were above our heads. As the flower buds began to appear, I grew excited at the prospect of the whole yard exploding in bright yellow happiness. I figured the birds and squirrels would also enjoy this bounty, but I was not at all prepared for the amount of animal life that our small patch of sunflowers supported all summer.
Squirrels and mice were the first to move in and partake of the glorious flower heads. More than once, I looked out to see a squirrel bouncing off with an array of bright yellow petals sticking out of his or her mouth. It was also a common experience to head out the front door and be greeted by the sound of rustling leaves as little mice were ducking rapidly from view…leaving behind a trail of sunflower seed remains.
Butterflies, bees, and wasps all enjoyed their own unique dive into the forest of sunflowers. At any given time, I needed two hands to count all the pollinators bouncing around the garden doing what they do best…ensuring the plant life on this earth continues to exist.
As joyful as the squirrels and mice have been, and as much as I love having so many pollinators in residence, I must admit I have been particularly taken by the gold finches and chickadees who showed up in the late summer. Their delightful chirps, squeaks, and songs literally fill the air. Their ability to camouflage into the sunflowers creates daily entertainment for me as I sit still on my porch hunting for each of them and being amazed at how many were actually hanging out in our little garden. I think the most I counted at once was 17 gold finches…and undoubtedly I missed some.
As fall is right around the corner, the gold finches and chickadees have consumed most of the seeds at this point. However, there are still several birds in the patch each day. Given the season and the fact that the sunflowers are all very straggly and brown now, I have started to feel like I need to put the garden to bed for the winter and remove all the stalks. In fact, this daunting task has started to weigh on me as my schedule between now and winter is quite full.
A couple of days ago, however, I heard some giggles and laughter coming from my front garden. I poked my head out the front door and could just make out the shape of two little girls sitting on the sidewalk looking up at the sunflowers.
“Wow…look at all the birds in there!”
“Yeah! And look at that one hanging upside down and eating from that flower…how cool!”
Both girls looked on in awe and amazement as the birds went about their business of searching for the few remaining seeds. The little girls’ shrieks of delight still warm my heart even days later. They never noticed me and remained for several minutes enjoying the company of the few birds who have not yet moved on…perhaps because they knew their work here was not yet done.
Deb Matlock grew up in the mountains of Colorado and is deeply committed to nurturing the connection between people, animals, earth, and spirit. She has spent twenty-five years working as a professional environmental and humane educator and naturalist. Additionally, Deb offers shamanic-style spiritual guidance, animal communication, nature connection workshops, and retreats through her business, Wild Rhythms. She is passionate about helping people find connection and deep spiritual meaning in their lives and in the places where they live. Deb holds a Master of Arts in Environmental Education from Prescott College and is pursuing her doctoral degree in environmental studies at Antioch University New England.
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