03 August 2010

Sunflowers and Teal Ribbons

Colorado SunflowersI began writing this post after a couple of devastating discoveries last week. Then I received a phone call Sunday that helped me put things back in proper perspective. The thoughts I felt last week are still genuine, but they don't dominate my horizon today. Today, I know what really matters.

One specific field I bicycle past whenever I commute to work always turns a radiant shade of gold in late July/early August when the wild sunflowers bloom.

Lady of the DayI hadn't been on my road bike much since June, partly thanks to its mountain bike derailleur, but also because I'd neglected my yard and garden while training for Ride the Rockies. Plus, the mountain bike and mountain wildflowers have been shouting to us, and we listened.

I'd noticed small patches of wild sunflowers blooming in areas along my normal non-cycling route to work, so I knew we were getting close to the annual sunrise sunflower photo excursion I've done every year since 2003. Ever since I married in 2005, The Lizard has patiently tolerated my habitual efforts to snap sunrise photos of him on his bike, and even though flowers are not guy things, he'd let me shoot him with the sunflowers every year. For our typical workday commute, we get up around 4:15 a.m. and are out the door less than half an hour later, on our bikes with headlights on our handlebars and bright red blinkies on our backs. I shoot pictures of The Lizard and the sunrise. When the sunflowers are blooming, I get them, too. Then I bike to work, and The Lizard bikes back home to prep for his workday.

YesteryearLast Friday, we began our late summer ritual beneath a blanket of thick clouds covering just enough of the sky to block the sun and prevent a glorious crimson and fuchsia sunrise. We arrived at the sunflower field 15 minutes before the sun would rise, but there were no sunflowers. No tall grass. Nothing. Just a mowed field. To add insult to injury, the sunrise remained gray.

I assume the field was shaved as a form of thistle control. The barren, stubby grass left behind was heartbreaking.

I got to work a little early that day because I didn't take the half hour of photos I'd planned. I thought I might be able to boost my mood by securing a couple of hours off on the first morning of the Rocky Mountain Balloon Festival, another annual photographic trek, this one cherished by me for a good 16 years or more. Ever since I relocated my Denver metro coordinates in 2003, I've enjoyed my bike ride to Chatfield Reservoir each day of the balloon fest, leaving my digs long before sunrise then watching and shooting the sun and the balloons as they take their lofty place in the sky.

2008 Rocky Mountain Balloon FestivalThe Lizard has grown to love hot air balloons during the last few years and has eagerly joined me for these predawn rides and helium horizons.

Last year, the balloon festival was canceled due to lack of sponsorship. So we were hungrier than ever for this year's fest.

I navigated to the official website to find out which Friday I would need to ask for late arrival permission at work. Instead of winners of the 2008 balloon photo contest, my computer screen was white with the denim blue "Browser cannot display the webpage" announcement.

Little did we know this would be the last time we'd get to ride to the balloon festival at Chatfield Reservoir.Butterflies in my stomach caused a bit of discomfort. I quickly performed an internet search for the event, dreading what I somehow instinctively knew I would find. Instead of a calendar, I found a year-old Denver Post article announcing the Rocky Mountain Balloon Festival had died and gone the way of all in-the-red family events. A new contract could not be negotiated. Event organizers threw in the towel. No more massive balloon gatherings over Chatfield.

We had planned to ride Waterton Canyon one last time over the weekend before it closed yesterday for 18 months. This is one of our favorite mountain biking trails because it's so easily accessed year-round. The South Platte River at the bottom of the canyon will be dredged during the next year and a half, and the construction zone is not deemed safe for human foot and bike traffic.

Living in a fairly arrid climate, I can't ever label rain unfortunate, but last weekend, the moniker was tempting. Heavy thundershowers kept us away from our favorite canyon. Too much lightning danced about. Waterton Canyon closed without a kiss goodbye from us.

We arranged to miss a couple hours of work Monday morning to watch the start of the Colorado Trail Race, an epic unsupported mountain bike event my husband hopes to compete in next year.

Instead, we spent Sunday night at a local hospital, where a very dear friend is slowly and painfully losing her five-year battle against ovarian cancer.

No regrets. We were exactly where we were supposed to be. Both of us were thankful we'd previously made arrangements with our employers, which enabled us to stay with Shonna and her husband throughout the night.

Three of Shonna's BabiesShonna makes the most beautiful dolls. Five years ago, she asked me to take pictures of her "babies" so she could make a Christmas present calendar for all her loved ones. The day I was supposed to set up my portable studio in her basement, she called to postpone. She'd just been diagnosed, and she didn't feel up to playing with dolls.

We planned the shoot the following year to celebrate her final round of chemo. Her next scan showed new tumors, and she asked to postpone again.

The same thing happened the third year, and numerous complications followed. In an attempt to emotionally lift her spirits, I suggested we do the photos anyway, if she felt up to it, so she would have something to look forward to.

We took the pictures, enjoyed a wonderful visit, and I created a personalized calendar for her. I delivered a stack of spiral-bound calendars to her in her hospital room after her third surgery. Her doctor and nurses went nuts over her dolls, and she was thoroughly distracted, showing off those babies to anyone who took the time to sit with her for a minute or two.

Every time she thinks she's got this cancer licked, it comes back, more fierce than ever. They say ovarian cancer is the worst, that success stories are rare. I wish Shonna didn't have to be proof of the disease's harshness.

last year's sunflower sunriseWhen I first began writing this post, before I knew the Sunday detour we would traverse, I was trying to maintain a cheerful attitude in the wake of heavy photographic losses.

Sunrise (and sunset) happens, I wrote. Almost every day. I knew I would be able to shoot many sunrises the rest of my life. I need not waste a moment of my time wishing the sky could have been different.

Waterton Canyon will open again in 2012. Fields of giant sunflowers north of Denver will begin blooming in the next couple of weeks. Hot air balloons will be rising all over the southwest during the next couple of months. I can't ride from my house to the launch point, but there will be plenty of opportunities for me to shoot and shoot and shoot, and then shoot some more.

I will never run out of photo opps. Treasures in my life vanished, yet I am thankful for the pictures and memories I have successfully collected over the years.

Achieving goals and dreaming dreams are important ingredients in the recipe for happiness. Dreams and goals, however, can't hold a candle to friendships forged.

"Remember, the greatest gift is not found in a store nor under a tree, but in the hearts of true friends." - Cindy Lew

Shonna, I am truly honored to be counted among your vast list of friends.
nver give up


  1. I love sunflowers ... I have one tattooed on my lower back.

  2. I am sorry to hear about your friend. Cancer is tough. The story of her doll calendars is really nice. Great sunflowers too.

  3. Thanks for this post. Perspective is a great thing, and really, what helps keep me balanced.

  4. My heart goes out to you and to Shonna. Been there too many times. My husband and I are currently handling the estate of a dear friend who ended her battle with cancer a few months ago. This week we're packing up the remnants of a lovely life. Sigh... wiping away tears. I have to remind myself that we get what we need, and our wonderful friends fight their fights and some of them go on to a better world.

  5. Oh, this has me in tears. All of the events canceled and flowers gone and such was so sad. And then you mentioned your friend battling cancer for so many years and it threw everything else into sharp perspective. You are a good friend to do the calendars for her and give her something joyful to celebrate when she needs it most!

  6. I`m sending warm words to your friend....tough.


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