A patch of sun
Give a man some dirt and he will scratch it until something good grows. Such could be the case for Northern Orange County resident Norman Walker.
At the young age of 83 (though not looking a day over 63), he scratches the ground from which sunflower seeds grow. “I do it because people like looking at them,” Walker said.
It is a hot, humid day and the sun is bright and bold in the sky, but against this deep-green backdrop, the nearly neon-yellow flowers are boldly blooming and absorbing every ray this day. Certainly, there are too many flowers to count. Like the people that admire them, the flowers come in all shapes and sizes. Some are tall and others are growing. Some are wide and full and others are beginning to feel their petals. The flowers are united and their allegiance is to the sun.
“Sometimes they follow the sun, facing it. Yet, these sunflowers seem happy looking to the East,” Walker said. Born in Caldwell, in a cabin off of Guess Road, with two siblings, Walker has raised six children with his wife of 64 years, Peggy. He has spent most of his life farming.
“I raised chickens for almost 30 years before getting into renting space for horses,” Walker said. Surrounding the landscape of his sunflower patch, near the intersection of Norman’s Road and Kiger Road, the scene is something of a respite and a tranquil reminder that scratching the earth really is a good thing.
According to Walker, the sunflowers have good reason to grow and shine these summer days. “Where they are planted, there were chickens for 30 years and the ground is very fertile.”
The idea of seeding the ground in sunflowers each year is not something that Walker planned. “My kids encouraged me and they like seeing the flowers, especially my daughter, Norma Sue. She brings fresh flowers to her office every day,” Walker said.
About five years ago, Walker began a tradition of giving his flowers away to those who line the one-mile stretch of road in Caldwell for its annual 4th of July parade. “This year, the flowers did not bloom as they have in years past to have them ready for the 4th. But, on the 5th of July, they just began to pop,” Walker says. The flower patch, where Walker’s flowers worship the sun is thick with the flowers and an informal walkway exists in the middle, from where one can purposefully become lost amid the golden blooms. “I tilled up the ground and just spread about 40 pounds of seed and did nothing else; this has been a really good year for them to grow,” he said. There are literally thousands of sunflowers blooming here. Which, according to Walker, attracts the eye of passing neighbors and lures bees and wildlife, alike.
“Sometimes I will see at least three types of bees on each flower. There are rabbits that play amid the spaces and it is not uncommon to see a fat-old-groundhog, nibbling here, too,” Walker said.
For this farmer, who is now now calls his place in life retirement, Walker said that looking out into the sunflowers is peaceful and a reminder of the cycle of life. “At different times of the day, I will look out and see the flowers and they are really nice to look at. When I see them and how they pose for the sun, there’s not much I can say other than it’s just nice,” said Walker.
He doesn’t make too much fuss about how beautiful and vibrant they are. Nearby the sunflowers there is a patch of cucumbers and watermelons and off in the distance there are pastures of deep green grass and a horse is seen shading from the sun. Following Walker into the mass of sunflowers and seeing the bees and blooms and for a moment, becoming lost in a sea of yellow and bold, the toil of Walker scratching the dirt disguises the scenery around you.
Like the sun that boastfully lingers on a summer day, one can find the same admiration by slowing lingering along Norman’s road and admiring one man, turned farmer, turned retired farmer, turned caretaker of flowers of the sun, and his humble scattering of seeds.
FINDING THE SUNFLOWERS
To enjoy the sunflowers, turn onto Norman’s Road from Guess road and pause for a moment where a wave of yellow flowers gestures to the East.
Have a feature of story idea for Jason Hawkins? Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.