THE SUNFLOWER STATE
Because one should never miss an opportunity to make lemonade out of lemons, I decided to celebrate our fine state when life handed me Kansas instead of Colorado.
Every Labor Day weekend since 2010, I have languished in the Rocky Mountain majesty of Cripple Creek, Colorado. Minus Suzanne last year, she and Gail have done the same. This year, however, duty called Gail and Suzanne—and family festivities called as well. It was not meant to be.
A throwback picture from our Labor Day 2014 trip.
Soon, however, it will be meant to be. And I will tell you about it in a future post—at least, what we want you to know about it. We never tell all.
Every Labor Day when I return to Kansas after savoring the natural beauty of Colorado, I return to savor one of the many natural beauties of Kansas: sunflowers in full bloom.
As well as living up to its title as The Wheat State, Kansas is also known as The Sunflower State. It is our state flower, and it is simply and timelessly beautiful.
Mom loved sunflowers. I have always liked sunflowers, but in an effort to further a small part of her larger-than-life legacy, I grew to love them after she was gone. I keep them in artificial form in my home throughout the year.
And, I gather a bouquet of fresh-picked ones and bring them indoors every Labor Day weekend.
I preach about them, too. If you grew up in Kansas and were hammered with Kansas history every January 29th in grade school to observe Kansas’ birthday—we celebrate our statehood since its inception as a state in 1861—you’d better be able to tell me why I am wearing a gaudy sunflower pin every year on that date.
No excuses if you are a native. Know your Kansas history, or get out of my way.
Suzanne will confirm that I am a purveyor of useless, but (sometimes) interesting information, so I won’t disappoint her today. I wanted to know more about sunflowers and why they are our state flower, and here is what I found:
*The sunflower was made the official state flower in 1903 after a lawmaker observed many people wearing them to identify themselves as Kansans. George Morehouse is the one to thank for that.
*Less than a decade before that, it was declared a noxious weed, and other lawmakers unsuccessfully attempted to eradicate it.
*It was chosen as a state symbol to represent our frontier days, winding trails, pathless prairies, as well as our bright past and future.
*Sunflowers grow in the wild, in planned gardens, and as a crop.
*They can grow up to nine feet tall.
*Sunflower oil is a valuable resource from the plant as a crop, and the seeds are enjoyed as a snack food, as well as in breads and salads.
*True to their name, the cultivated sunflower typically turns to face the sun, mostly before they are in full bloom. Because I am a word nerd as well, I want you to know this is known as heliotropism. Wild sunflowers face in all directions.
Our dad planted sunflowers for a few years, but he apparently deemed it not as successful as he had hoped.
In the wild, sunflowers grow in large bunches,
small bunches, or they may grow in single plants.
Any way they grow, they are simply beautiful.
While we are on a roll here with important Kansas information, let me share more of The Sunflower State’s vital official details:
The Ornate Box Turtle is the state reptile, and just in time for this post, one made a guest appearance in my neighbor’s yard this morning.
“Ad Astra Per Aspera” is our state motto. “To The Stars Through Difficulty,” is the translation from Latin. Along with the sunflower, it is featured on our state flag:
We had many cottonwood trees on our farm, leaving me with warm memories of the soft cotton floating through the air in the summer time. It is no surprise that this tree is our state tree.
The Western Meadowlark is the state bird. It is also the state bird of Nebraska and Wyoming.
So there you have it. You are all prepared to celebrate Kansas’ 158th birthday next January 29th. You’re welcome.
I have a love/hate/love relationship with Kansas, and love always wins. I love that this state has been our lifelong home, with my exception of a semester of college on an exchange program in New Mexico, and a year–less one day–of suburban Philadelphia as a nanny. Gail, Suzanne and I spent our first 18 years in the same farmhouse, and we treasure that heritage. We grew up on a farm, learning the Midwestern farm work ethic, values and morals. We weren’t exposed to crime or drugs, just rock-and-roll.
I hate the winters—now. As kids, we enjoyed frequent afternoon-long sledding expeditions in the hilly pastures behind our farmhouse. The snow came up to our waists at times, and the drifts could bury us if we weren’t careful.
We loved it, but we rarely get snow like that anymore in these parts.
Now, just when I think the interminable winter—without beautiful snow– is going to bleed my soul into complete and irreversible dehydration with its icy and windy gray-ness, the beautiful green leaves appear on the trees, and I know I have survived one more year.
I love the summer heat. June, July and August are my three favorite things about Kansas. I’m not even kidding. Bring on the 100-degree plus temps. I languish in them.
Call me crazy. Go ahead. I know you want to.
Now that it is September, those three glorious attributes are behind me once again. Even if the temperatures exceed 100 degrees in September—which they sometimes do, it’s not the same. I know it’s time for fall to arrive, and I won’t be fooled.
And, to confirm that I am indeed crazy, I don’t even like fall. Just bring on the freezing temperatures already, and get it over with. Don’t jack around with these “beautiful” 80-degree days in October. Give me sub-freezing weather. I like the extremes.
But so does Suzanne, so if you call me crazy, you have to call her crazy, too. She loves the extreme temperatures. Again, because I love trivial information, I want to enlighten you with this fact from weather.com: among our 50 states, Kansas ranks 31st in temperature ranges. A range of 161 degrees has been documented, all the way up to 121 degrees, and down to 40 below. I would have guessed we would be closer to #1 than #50. Hawaii is #1, ranging from an unexpected twelve degrees, up to 100 degrees, and Montana is #50, ranging from a balmy 117 degrees, down to minus 70.
Log on here to get more (useless, but interesting ) information.
As much as it pains me to write this, I have to reiterate that both Gail and Suzanne love the Kansas wind (Weather Girls, January 28th). I hate the wind. Detest it. Loathe it. Am I making myself clear?
The name Kansas comes from the Native American Kansa tribe of the Sioux. Ironically, it means people of the south wind. Go figure.
One thing we all agree on without a doubt: we love Kansas because (most of) our family is here. We love being close to all of them.
Kansas has a bad rap for being “fly-over” country; best observed from above at 30,000 feet-plus. We know this is the impression, but we disagree.
I picked this up last weekend on our getaway. Along with several other stickers, I put it on my new computer. Might as well laugh along with them, because the joke is on them.
Our sunsets offer unparalleled beauty. We’ll put them up against any other state’s sunsets, even this one my family saw on the beach last month.
Sorry, Florida. I love you and your sunsets, but we’ve got you beat.
Any Kansas girl who has ever traveled out of state and let on that she was from Kansas has had to endure the worn-out and not-even-funny Dorothy jokes. I fought that in New Mexico and Pennsylvania. The joker always thinks they are the one who came up with it, and it is funny only to them. I know several women named Dorothy who are actually from Kansas, and they have had more than their share, I’m sure.
Greater than the summer heat and the splendid sunsets, I love Kansas for one simple reason: it is home. Home is in one’s heart, and Kansas is in ours. And, just like Dorothy said, “There’s no place like home.”
A gift from Gail to me. Its home is in a chair in Fort Kathleen, my favorite all-my-own space in my home (A Space of Her Own, October 15th).
Suzanne and I spent the afternoon together today. We longed to be together with Gail in Colorado, but it wasn’t meant to be. So we turned the lemons into sunflowers. Her shirt was a complete coincidence; no hidden messages to be inferred. You can think what you like about my headwear.
DEDICATED TO MOM AND CARLY. I KNOW THAT FOR THEM, HEAVEN IS FILLED WITH SUNFLOWERS.
Thanks to my friend Gwenna Reich for this picture, the photographer extraordinaire.