We almost didn’t find the field.
My mom was told sunflowers blossom every summer at McKee-Beshers Wildlife Management Area in Montgomery County, Maryland, and I found the photographic evidence to prove it. We got word the flowers were planted later than normal this year, so the peak blooming season would be early August. Fine and good. We also heard the sunflowers were in a different field than in previous years, one “to the right” of the main field — check and check.
After driving an hour and a half, we arrived at McKee-Beshers. We parked near the main field. We walked “to the right” and . . . nothing. Sunlight. Weeds. Bright blue skies . . . and no sunflowers.
This was already shaping up to be an odyssey.
We made friends along our search, all of us cruising around the property with harried expressions. We parked and got out, checked and moved again. Over and over. Again and again. It’s not that big, we reasoned; surely we can find these things? How hard can it be to find an entire field of sunflowers?
A half hour later, we were still looking — and had amassed quite the caravan. A family of six, the parents loaded down with camera equipment, strollers and car seats. Two friends fresh from an evening at the nearby Buddhist temple. A mother and her two daughters, eager to snap portraits in the waning afternoon light. A man, his daughter and his elderly mother, all dressed in their Sunday best.
At our final stop of the evening — at the very last parking lot, the very last place it could possibly be — Spencer and I hopped out of the van and ran ahead to a clearing. It was 6 p.m., just at the golden hour, and we were at the end of our patience. I was sweaty and hungry. It was starting to feel like this whole thing was going to be a bust — an epic waste of time and gas. A giant disappointment.
“If it’s not here,” I said to Spence, “I don’t know what we’re going to do.”
If it’s not here, I thought, I’m going to completely freak out.
Yellow sunlight poured into a clearing as we walked out of the woods and into the giant field. I held my breath as the first few stalks of green came into view, blinking to make sure I wasn’t imagining things. Seeing what I wanted to see.
But I wasn’t.
“Yeah!” I hooted, spinning around to do a dance in my parents’ line of view. “They’re here! We found them!”
It looked like something out of a fairytale. Green stems and sunflowers as far as the eye can see — streaming out in the direction of the sunset, which was quickly turning the sky pink. Though many of the buds had yet to burst open, I was captivated. Totally enthralled.
The other flower enthusiasts poured into the clearing — a steady river of relief. The family of six set up on one side of the field, our group of four on the other. The mother and daughters got their pictures. The friends went for a walk.
We only had 30 minutes before the sun dipped behind a thick cloud, throwing the whole field into shade. Thirty minutes before the mosquitoes began to nip at our legs and ankles. Thirty minutes before our grumbling stomachs meant we had to break for food. We buzzed around the field like insects, snapping a steady stream of photos. My mom, enamored with sunflowers since I was a kid, was in her element — and we made those minutes count.
The sunflowers weren’t at their peak, currently sitting only about shoulder-high, but they were wild and lovely and fabulous. I’m planning to go back next summer.
And we already starred and marked their location on our wrinkled map.