Late Bloomers: A Shift in Perspective on a Drizzly Evening

On a trip to the see the sunflowers at Dorothea Dix Park, this writer learns she’s missed the peak — but finds something just as beautiful.
by Jordan Lee | photography by Bob Karp

I turned into the nearly-empty gravel lot that late-July evening with the sinking feeling you get when you arrive at a restaurant that closed 10 minutes earlier. As I got out of my car, the sky started spitting and I popped open my umbrella. I walked, lost in thought, looking at my feet on the patchy grass, trodden by thousands before me.

Suddenly, I was there. I looked up across the field to see… green. Stalks and stalks of green. Noooooooo! I thought. I should have made it out last week. At the edge of the sunflower field at Dorothea Dix Park, I was deflated that I’d missed the scene bursting with sunflowers that had been filling my Instagram feed.

But then I glanced over my shoulder. Behind me, like a silent flash mob just waiting for their cue, were rows of happy yellow faces. The stalks I’d seen before were simply their backs.

I walked down one row, bright sunflower faces cresting my shoulders. The canopy of my umbrella, paired with the walls of sunflowers, insulated me from all the exterior noise. All I could hear was the static of the rain and the water falling through the leaves all around me. I walked through row after row, intoxicated by the repetition.

The rainy field yielded to patches of color. That glow of youth was evident in a just few late bloomers, heads held high, standing above the crowd.

But most of the sunflowers were well past peak. I paused to look at some mammoth blossoms: The leaves were wrinkly and brown, parched from the summer heat, their stalks prickly with 5 o’clock shadows. Their heads bowed down, chin-to-chest, gazing at their roots. But I saw sprouts of black seeds on their faces. Raindrops had collected in the depressions of their necks — quick pit stops for the bees. They had transformed to provide new life.

The sky was starting to dim, and the rain was falling harder, so I moseyed back to my car. The droplets had quieted the dusty paths and washed the world clean. There was a brightness that was different from when I arrived. Maybe it was the rain’s work; maybe it was me.

Had I turned around instead of moving forward, had it been beaming sunshine instead of raining, I might have missed this. But the slate gray sky curtsied, and the sunflowers stepped to center stage — bright and warm.

It was a reminder that it’s all about perspectives in life. Vantage points. What you see from where you see it.

Sunflowers are blooming at Dorothea Dix Park ushering in the return of a beloved Raleigh event that was put on hold for a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. After the bloom is over, Raleigh Water harvests the sunflowers at Dix Park to process biodiesel for educational programs and demonstrations. Over 8 acres of sunflower are planted across Dorothea Dix Park and the North Carolina Museum of Art.

This article originally appeared in the July 2022 issue of WALTER magazine.