I travel from western Massachusetts, to the West Village of New York City most weeks. This means a 45-minute drive from Great Barrington to the Metro-North station at Wassaic followed by a two-hour train ride. It’s a pleasant journey and the drive to Wassaic is a delight, I have to admit, even though I am campaigning for trains to come all the way to Great Barrington. I have a favorite route, through Salisbury, Lakeville, Sharon, and Amenia. My favorite spot along that route is a stretch of Connecticut countryside where the road goes along a ridge with big farms on either side and a view over a pair of lakes. As I was driving along the ridge last week, I noticed a field of lush, large-leaved plants. Not corn, not potatoes, not anything I could remember seeing in the Northeast. They looked, I thought, like sunflowers and I resolved to stop and take a close look on my way back a few days later.
It’s always nice to have a reason to stop the car and get out in a beautiful spot, and up close the plants did look more like sunflowers than anything else I could think of. But there were no flowers or buds yet, and I had never seen sunflowers growing in this part of the world.
I knew, though, how delightful a field of sunflowers is: I took the photo you see above in Italy when I was there for an international sports history conference. As I stood there enjoying the view, a big lawn-mowing tractor approached. I flagged down the driver, who did not look entirely happy about turning off his engine, but was full of information about the farm. This is the first year he’d planted sunflowers, as I thought, 56 acres of them because there’s demand for birdseed.
The next evening a friend told me that this is because new laws about transfats in food have led to increased demand (and, presumably) higher prices for sunflower seed oil. Thank god they aren’t growing rapeseed, which is made into canola oil. It’s common in the UK, which has glaring, luridly yellow flowers. The happy result here is what will soon be a spectacular landscape, and I expect to see that stretch of hillside thronged with photographers.
PS 21 July: Here’s a photo of the sunflowers in bloom on that Connecticut hillside. They aren’t particularly tall and are all turned away from the road, too shy to face the photographers, perhaps. My son points out that they face south, but I think they turn to follow the sun and I’m hoping to catch them at the right moment.