The first time I passed a field of sunflowers, the curves of the German road distracted me from the blooms. As I popped up at the top of the hill and shifted, the change in trajectory and gears combined to create a pause, as if in mid-air, that I would repeat every time I drove that road, and only in the final moment as my internal organs caught up with the change in motion did my eyes glimpse the field full of yellow petals.
Decades later as I passed the Wyoming sunflower fields did I realize all of those bright faces faced east, and since they were on the west side of the road, every one of them watched as I, and any other passersby, zipped past their growing stalks. I learned shortly thereafter that these big, full flowers obviously did not face the road to watch its travelers, but rather they instinctively face away from the prevailing winds, and in Wyoming summers, that wind blew from the Shoshone Mountains beyond Cody. Yet, the field full of flowers sprouted and spread their faces towards the road – towards me.
That wind, even when seeping into the Shell Valley stealthily, moves towards the east, and when the clouds dip lower than the peaks, the fog pours over the mountains’ edges. I watch a summer storm, weak in precipitation, but hefty in meteorological effects, change the landscape. Trees hide behind the approaching dense mist. The colors of the hillsides transition from tans to grays as the sun and sky vanish from view. The fog drips swiftly over the edge of the cliff, running like water through the lodgepole pines, engulfing the branches rather than the trunks. The storm tumbles down over the surroundings, limiting the visibility and the clarity of the surroundings.
The harsh Wyoming winds, gusts that can push over a semi truck minding its business on an interstate, also occasionally whispers its intent slithering into the nooks and rocks that rise around me. This wild wind that teaches sunflowers to turn their backs to its force also wisps its way gently around the folds of the forest. I’ve felt this wind be hurtful, and I’ve watched this wind be artistic. In winter, it’s instinctive to arch my back like the big blooms and keep it from reaching my skin, but when it creeps towards me now, dripping the lowest clouds into the valley’s crevices, I witness its approach, and its desire to permeate everything dramatically, even when it chooses to be subtle. I wait for it to push the mist closer until my skin moistens. I cannot turn against this wind.