Closer to the Sun

The sun is getting brighter and the days longer.  On March 20th comes the Spring Equinox, marking the sun’s northward advance over our hemisphere and the promise of even more sunlight and warmth.  Let there be life.

The sun had its first close-up recently, relayed in December by NASA’s Parker Solar Probe spacecraft.  The detailed view of a blazing solar streamer, a filament of hot plasma in the sun’s atmosphere, was shot from 14.9 million miles away from the sun, twice as close as any previous photograph.

Closer close-ups are coming.  The probe is on a seven-year voyage that will reach 3.7 million miles from the sun’s surface to understand its many storms and why they’re so unpredictably hot—from 1.7 to 17 million degrees Fahrenheit.  There is nothing new under the sun, but there might be something new on it.

I find it odd that this unprecedented solar image hasn’t gone viral, appeared everywhere as a top story, providing a worldwide “aha” moment.  The Apollo 17’s 1972 photograph of earth, the “blue marble,” was an instant popular sensation, and now one of the most reproduced images ever.  Shot from 17,000 miles away, it should be considered the world’s first selfie.

We have grown detached from the sun, on which our lives depend.  Our primitive ancestors had a closer, more sophisticated appreciation of it.  The sun was the preeminent—and often female—deity in early religions.  Huge edifices, such as Stonehenge, Tulum, and Machu Picchu, served as observatories and sacred gathering places for communities.

So powerful, omnipresent, bright, hot, distant, huge, and all enveloping in its effect on our lives, the sun seems too big for our myopic vision, too vast to fit into our minds.  We can’t see for looking.

To think about the sun requires more than thinking.  The magnitudes of scale are so outside our experience that we have to yank the doors of perception off their hinges to grasp the sun’s immensity.  As we reflect on the sun, we see ourselves reflected.  Directing our attention sunwards, we begin to see ourselves from the sun’s point of view.  Here we are, tenuous, ephemeral, and tinier than atoms.  Perhaps we fear what the sun reveals.

The surest way to reach the sun is the garden path, the solar runway.  Sparked by lengthening days, gardens respond to the sun’s call.  From March 20th on, we—and the earth we share—rise to the cosmic occasion.

Hibernating creatures stir in their winter residences, peeking outside to confirm the evidence of their circadian clocks.  Underground, root stems huff and puff as they push in the direction of greatest sunlight.  Birds in chevron flight wing northward, back to the beckoning sun.  Snowdrops, irises and crocuses flower and perfume the breeze.

Hummingbirds hum, bees buzz.  Stems emerge from the warming soil; buds open and flower.  Butterflies and bees gather pollen and nectar from radiant blossoms in a kaleidoscope of colors.  Overhead, new leaves festoon the gravity-defying trees.

The garden is a nursery of life, the sun its doting mother—93 million miles away.  Fanciful?  Take a look outside.  The garden is the closest you can get to the sun.

A version of this article appeared in The Fresno Bee, the Memphis Commercial Appeal, the Altoona Mirror, the Casper Star Tribune and the Anchorage Daily News.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, March 20th, 2019 at 12:51 pm and is filed under Original Posts. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
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2 Responses to “Closer to the Sun”

  1. Lauren B. said:

    Hello, funny that you are discussing the sun here. I heard you recently as a guest on C L Fornari’s Garden Line radio show where you were talking about some of your new introductions for this year. You mentioned a new sunflower named Zeus. You said Zeus was god of the sun in Greek mythology but that was Apollo. Maybe you should have said that Zeus, god of thunder and a bunch of other things, sat high on Mt Olympus, just as this sunflower will tower over everything else…

    • George said:

      Dear Lauren

      Hope all is well.

      Thank you for posting a comment.

      Don’t remember the interview but I’m sure you are correct.

      Indeed I was wrong to say Zeus was the Sun god. He was sometimes incorrectly confused with Helios, the original Sun god. Apollo was Zeus’s son and associated mainly with knowledge, truth, music, Sun, and prophecy. For some bizarre reason the space program to the moon was named after him. I think Apollo is given governance over the Sun mainly, but certainly not exclusively, by way of “light” being associated with knowledge and truth, as in “Apollonian”. Light as in “enlightenment” and so on.

      Apparently, Helios, who was entirely and perhaps originally the Sun god, would permit Zeus to use the Sun as his eye. The poet—and gardener!—Hesiod says this, more or less. That in effect the Sun was technically Zeus looking at everything. Being the king of all the ancient Greek gods, this was part of his job. We get the word, “Deus” from “Zeus”. There were cults devoted to Zeus across the Mediterranean.

      Named new sunflower (internet only) “Zeus” not only for poetic “eye” aspect, but also because it looks eye-like (no flat seed disc but slightly convex carpet of yellow florets, being mutations of original anther-stamen structure of now missing florets, which is why seed yield is extremely low—from non-mutated florets on extreme perimeter of seed disc—-and seed expensive).

      Additionally, the large yellow bracts (the “petals” of the “flower” of Zeus look shaggy and even at times slightly curly or “torqued”, like his hair and beard.

      So, the “eye” and “Zeus” -like forms of his unusual sunflower variety that we spotted in a test field here in Doylestown three years ago suggested the traits of Zeus’s “head” and thus the cultivar name.

      Thanks again and much happy gardening to you.

      Best,

      George Ball

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