Since 2014, I’ve been growing sunflowers everywhere I live.
The seeds originated from sunflowers grown at the Self-Realisation Fellowship ashram in Encinitas, California, where my son Daniel was living as his first years as a monk. In June 2014, prior to going back to live in Nepal, I visited Daniel, and he gave me seeds from some huge Russian Mammoth sunflower heads. I brought these to Nepal, where I started working at Phul Kumari Mahato Memorial Hospital (PKMMH) in Karjanha, in Siraha district in south-east Nepal.
Karjanha is a rural village in which the main vocation is farming. In the spring, the Karjanha fields become an emerald green, transformed into rice paddies. The fields were ploughed by oxen, and at times one could see people riding water buffaloes throughout the village.
People primarily shopped at “haat bazaars” or farmers’ markets twice a week. These took place in the village centre with farmers putting down a blanket or plastic to display their fruits and vegetables on top of the bare dirt. You could buy almost anything at the market, including bangles, shampoo, plastic buckets, spices, and especially incredible fresh fruits and vegetables the villagers grew. Given my passion for farmers’ markets it was always such a treat for me to walk down the paths accompanied by the many children whom I befriended in Karjanha. Many times, they would negotiate for me as my Nepali skills were lacking.
Between my residence and the hospital was a large open area that was mostly dirt. There were a few things growing on the property, including some guava trees. The Medical Director, Dr Shah, was growing some vegetables and spices for his family. I decided to do the same.
I planted a few of the sunflower seeds along with some other vegetables in some compost I had made. Sprouts started to emerge a short time later. But the sunflowers … they were just amazing! They grew to great heights with huge heads. At the end of the season I harvested the seeds and decided to save them and see how far and wide they could be planted.
I grew sunflowers in Kathmandu (CSRC) next when I started working with World Jewish Relief from mid-2015–August 2016. Since this was located in a residential area, I gave some seeds to the next-door neighbour. The seeds were also given to my friends in the Rasuwa district of Nepal, who continue to grow them at bhumighar (land rights home).
I brought the seeds back with me to the US when I returned in August 2016 to work in Tucson, Arizona. I planted some of these seeds in my landlord’s backyard, and they grew, although much skinnier than in Nepal. I gave seeds to my friend Barry who was visiting from Hawaii, and they’ve also been attempted in Japan. When I moved to Durham, North Carolina in March 2018, I planted seeds at my workplace, Bridge II Sports. I also gave some seeds to a friend in Massachusetts. Now living in Palm Desert, California, I’ve also grown them here.
The original seeds have now been intermixed from the many places in which they’ve sprouted. I’ve also picked up seeds from other sunflowers that I’ve encountered on walks and wanderings.
When I coached the Tucson Lobos Wheelchair Basketball Team for a short period of time in 2017, I gave each team member five seeds each, because that is the number of players that make up a team on the court at any one time during a basketball game. This is what I wrote to the players:
I’ve given you these seeds to nurture and grow. In 7–10 days, you will start to see the seedlings. By March or April, you should start to see flowers. They should be well taken care of with plenty of water and sun. I’ve also given you these seeds to show how taking care of something with lots of nurturing can help a small seed with a black and white shell to turn into a magnificent flower of various shades of yellow which will produce even more seeds.
This is also about you and your goals, to help you spread your wings. In order for you to flourish you have to nurture yourself. That could mean education, good food, exercise, being with friends, and being okay with where your life is at, in this moment.
I’ve never ceased to nurture my sunflowers, no matter where I’ve lived and the kind of soil. I’ve had to plant the seeds in no matter the climate or how busy I am. At times I’ve taken care of myself this way, too, but at other times I’ve forgotten and not properly done so.
But every time I see the green stalks rising, the leaves growing, and eventually the yellow petals and heads of the sunflowers rising high above, I’m reminded of how beautiful the world can be and what I need to do to take care of myself so that I may also grow into the potential that is awaiting me.
Rosenkrantz is a columnist with THT-Perspectives and lives in Palm Desert, California with his wife Yasuyo, whom he met in Nepal. He has an MBA, and MA-Sociology