Friday Favorites: Sunflower Field

Summer always looks tired to me. By July all the leaves look spent and dry. The oak leaves droop depressedly and the canopy takes on a tinge of golden-orange as if it had been singed.

Yellow. So much yellow, and supposedly there was a sunflower field in the area filled with yellow. I heard about this sunflower field through a couple sources, so one afternoon after work Emily and I headed out to find that sunflower field.

It was good timing that we went when we did. Traffic looked bad, but we weren't sure which other day we could venture out, and in this heat that has the thermometer edging towards three digits it was quite possible the blooms would expire soon from heat exhaustion.

And besides, Ryder needed a fun outing. He's a clever dog who doesn't mind sharing his opinion about his quality of care. He's been known to leave...feedback...if he thinks he's not getting enough attention or going on enough adventures. When he's extremely frustrated with me, he'll pick up objects in the house, put a couple tooth marks in them - not enough to do any damage, but just enough to visibly remind me he's unhappy - and leave them by the door. The uncanny thing is he always picks an item relevant to whichever activity has been distracting me from him. For one stretch of time he was unhappy with my long hours at work and so he picked up a couple pens, nibbled on the caps, and left them by the front door. Another time he disliked how much time I spent playing soccer, so he pulled my shinguards from my bag and left them by the front door. Another time it was running, and he pulled out my pink KT tape and sunk a tooth or two in the hard plastic case and left the tape in the middle of the living room.

Most recently I've been busy just being outside taking photos. Ryder seems to know not to pull out anything that has any value, but when I came home from work I found a bottle of sunscreen warped with a couple bit marks. Clever boy.

So alright, it was time to take Ryder on an adventure. I grabbed his harness and bungee leash, plenty of water, and my photography gear, and we headed east to meet up with Emily and check out this famed sunflower field.

We parked at the Neuse River Greenway Mial Plantation access point, which I recognized from my excursion to the trail this past winter. I was both surprised and not surprised to see the parking lot was overflowing, but I managed to find a spot and off we went down the trail, headed northwest back towards Raleigh.

The trail was packed. A steady stream of visitors along the trail hinted at the crowds we might find at the sunflower field. We wandered past fields of corn and mown hay and over a long bridge that overlooked a view that Hudson River School painters would envy. Normally that view would be enough to make me stop, but no, we were looking for sunflowers, and we didn't have much daylight left.

It was only 1.5 miles or so down the trail before we finally came to the sunflower field, and sure enough it was packed. There were people milling about and enjoying the flowers and taking photos with their phones, their point-and-shoot cameras, and their DSLRs. There were dogs nosing at clumps of grass and honeybees buzzing happily from one big sunny face to the next, fuzzy with pollen and glistening from the humidity.

It was obviously a popular spot with photographers too, and everyone ignored the signs posted that said, "NO TRESPASSING." The field was fertilized from biosludge from a wastewater treatment plant, and I read some concerns about copperheads when I researched the field, but even so the draw of the flowers proved irresistible to most visitors. Some people climbed over the white vinyl railings. Others slipped between the rails. One photographer even brought a large step stool to help her pregnant client climb over the fence, and once inside everyone ventured along the edges, delighting in the flowers that stood as tall as them. On the rare occasion that a child ventured into the field they disappeared amid the green stalks, and the only indication of where they were was the blur of bobbing yellow blossoms.

Emily and I ventured to the far end of the field with Ryder. We didn't feel like jockeying with photographers for the prettiest spots by the peak flowers. It was supposed to be peak blooming time, but already most of the field looked ragged and tired from the heat. Sunflowers are composite flowers with big blossoming heads that are actually hundreds of flowers bunched together, with the disk flowers in the dark center presenting both stamen and stigma to eager honeybees. They were still heavy with pollen, but in the heat the yellow ray flowers curled and wilted towards the east, ignoring the hazy sunset and waiting for another hot sunrise.

Do it: Park at Mial Plantation access point, turn right on the trail and walk 1.5 miles to the sunflower field. Another option is to go straight to the field and park along the road, but that's discouraged. After all, the trail is a nice stroll.

Have you visited the sunflower field? What were your thoughts? Let me know in the comments!

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