Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Presence of a Tall Sunflower

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Presence of a Tall Sunflower

Article excerpt

I WENT to the Pike Place Market in downtown Seattle about 9:15 a.m. I like to go early when farmers and craftspeople are setting up stalls. It moves me to see what effort they go to to bring in fresh flowers, fragile fruit, and to arrange it all in displays as orderly and attractive as they can make them.

I had a list of things to buy: tea, rubber gloves - I was still unpacking belongings, and there was scrubbing to do.

I purchased tiny white mushrooms, plump peaches, honey in a comb, then passed a stand of flowers, so fresh, precisely outlined in the morning sunlight and there: a tall vase of sunflowers!

Sunflowers. I'd been wondering what I might find for a slender vase I could put on the floor to bring a splash of color into my almost bare living room.

I told myself that I could come back later for a sunflower. Going on, however, I changed my mind. Nothing was so important to buy as that flower.

"Dolla fifty," it cost.

A woman standing beside me at the stall held a bouquet she'd just purchased. She sniffed a warm deep red center with petals cool red, then confided, "I only had one dollar left to spend. I want to paint them."

I started to say something about the beauty of the flowers, but was too moved. This has happened to me several times when I've been in an open market. There's something about the farmers bringing the freshness from the earth to us in the city and some of them asking so little for it.

"How much?" we inquire. They glance at a bouquet and then, "Fifty cents." Or, as happened to me when I once chose four small flowers in the Pike Market, "Take them. No charge."

IN Manhattan, where I used to live on the upper West Side, when a few farmers set up on Wednesdays and Saturdays during the summer, I sometimes felt somebody had brought me a gift in prison, someone I didn't even know.

"It's good to see you," I once told a farmer there, my voice quivering a bit despite my effort to control it.

"It's good to be here," he said with feeling, and he sounded as though he could use the 80 cents I handed him.

"Will you come next Wednesday?" I asked.

"Nope. Can't come Wednesday. …

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