Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Although Kansas retains the official nickname of the Sunflower State, the apex of summer brings into fruition the more than 2 million acres of brilliant yellow patchwork throughout the wooded and lake-sprinkled tri-state area of the upper Midwest. In addition to the annual commercial growth and production of the whimsical plant known as helianthus annus, lakeside gardens and shoreline flower beds are accentuated with these solar signposts; adding to the already present beauty and aroma of the lake country. All the while, these simple plants maintain a brilliant charm and an age-old and subtle mission, invisible to the human eye:

Tracking the Magic

Heliotropism. Your standard scientific term for a process that borders on pure and simple magic. As well, it adds an air of scientific sophistication to any social gathering when uttered. Translated, the word simply means "sun-tracking."

Scientifically speaking, floral heliotropism is a nastic response to the Sun, often seen in the brilliant sunflowers of the Midwest and other flowering plant species. Movement is observed during the day, as the flower tracks the course of the Sun across the sky. During the night, the flowers may assume a random orientation, while at dawn they turn again towards the east where the Sun rises.

In layman terms, facing east at sunrise, the sunflower’s head follows the sun across the sky to face west at sunset. This heliotropic movement, called nutation, results from a bending of the stem toward the sunlight. On a cloudy overcast day, the sunflower remains facing eastward, awaiting the next clear sunrise. The leaves of the sunflower are also heliotropic. If they are removed, the sunflower head would be unable to follow the sun. The sunflower usually reaches maturity three to four months after the emergence of the seedling. As the seeds develop, the heads begin to droop with the added weight and at maturity face nearly downward.

The reason why sunflowers face the sun is not completely understood, but it is possible that the sunflower is more visible to the pollinating insects when it is brightly lit by the sun. The temperature of the flower will be a few degrees higher which will cause the developing embryo to mature more quickly. Most plants will lean towards the light; this exposes more of the chlorophyll to the sun. Bottom line, there remains several hypotheses, but none solely conclusive.

Likewise, love, organically broken down, can be defined as a complex combination of physiological responses, chemical pheromones and animal instincts toward self-preservation. But the bottom line remains the same: there are several hypotheses, but none solely conclusive. It is at this moment when the magic takes over...

As well, Life, chemically broken down at its origin, is defined as 23 pairs of chromosomes in a never-ending DNA-laden organic waltz. The potential combinations for different human beings at this point? Literally millions of possible combinations. And the bottom line remains: there are several hypotheses as to the very moment how and why a single Life begins, but none solely conclusive. It is at this moment, again, when the magic takes over...

It is known that the very dust in the atmosphere is what will ultimately determine the quality of a typical sunset, but even realizing this scientific fact doesn't diminish the beauty of that sunset. Knowing the chemical make-up of a newborn doesn't disqualify any amount of parental love. It is at these moments - and so many others - when the magic takes over...

It seems the more we examine the physical realm in all of its aspects, we find that magic seeping through. And you know what? That is just fine. It's wonderful that we continually pry and prod down to Nature's very quarks, but there always remains room in our hearts and minds and lives for a little more of the magic. Especially in our present world of critical scientific analysis and over-explanation, there is always room on our plate for a side dish of personal wonder and awe at the world around.

So amidst all the scientific postulates and hypotheses, the Sun will rise tomorrow and the sunflowers will follow its path across the sky, babies will be born and people will fall in love. And all this will occur despite our best scientific understanding and explanation. It is at this moment when the magic takes over, we face the sunlight and simply sigh, “That is just fine.”


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