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Joe's Neighborhood

On the edge with the sunflower

10/17/2012

When your wife is on the “edge,” you know that you need to tread lightly. She’s edgy. If you’re walking on the boat dock at Gray’s Lake, you know that you need to stay away from the edge. A misstep could find you in deep water. And you know you have to be a tiny bit concerned about traveling all the way to the edge of Iowa. A small nudge, and you could end up in Missouri.                

Edges are dangerous. Cliffs have edges, as do sharp knifes. The signs could not be more clear: Beware! Stay back! Danger!                

But what’s happening at the edge? If the edge is the farthest point from the center, aren’t you just a little curious. Perhaps the edge is where the party is. Remember, you were told things were dangerous and needed to be avoided, but then you discovered that deep-fat-fried butter on a stick was pretty darned good. How can you stay down on the farm after that glance over the edge?                

Tom Brown is a nut — my kind of nut. He has published a slew of books on tracking animals and living in nature. He can be found at http://www.trackerschool.com. Yes, he says things like: “Explore the Spiritual teachings of Grandfather and become one with the Spirit-That-Moves-Through-All-Thing.” Really? Out loud? However, he has a ton of information about the wilderness wrapped in a Zen-like approach. A piece of advice that he frequently gives in his Field Guide is that the action in the outdoors occurs at the edge. The edge of a field. The edge of a woods. The edge of a stream.                

And remember Robert Waller? Yup, the Iowa boy who penned “The Bridges of Madison County” and then high-tailed it to Texas. Before he took that strange turn, he wrote a wonderful book of essays called “Just Beyond the Firelight.” In one essay on romance, he states: “Romance dances just beyond the firelight, in the corner of your eye.” Could Bob have been more clear: Romance is at the edge of things.                

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Finally, there’s this quirky neuroscientist called David Eagleman. In his recent book, “Incognito,” he writes about perception and a phenomenon called Mach bands. When two paint strips of different colors are put side by side, where the two edges meet, the color will look a little darker on the lighter strip and a little lighter on the darker strip. They are in fact not darker or lighter. Weird. But the lesson: At the edge, strange and wondrous events are occurring.                

So what is on the edge right now in Iowa?

Well, on the edges of city parks …                

 

 

 

 

 

 

on the edges of corn fields and pastures…                

 

 

 

 

 

 

and next to the city sidewalk…                

Ta da! It is the amazingly beautiful, wild sunflower!                

The flower actually lives on the edges of our physical world — perhaps it is even the embodiment of Tom Brown’s Grandfather Spirit. The flower’s beauty lasts but a moment — perhaps Bob Waller’s notion of romance. And its flower starts out bright and then quickly turns into more muted shades of dark and light — perhaps the perception phenomenon noted by David Eagleman.                

However: CAUTION! DANGER! STAY BACK! As I warned, on the edge there is always a risk. When I ran the wild sunflower’s rap sheet, lo and behold, it is outlawed as a noxious weed. No kidding. Iowa Code section 317.1A(2) puts the wild sunflower on the post office wall next to rapists and murderers. Section 317.10 says you need to “cut, burn, or otherwise destroy” the wild sunflower — in other words: “Kill on sight.” Yikes.                

So, the wild sunflowers are on the lam. Hiding from the Weed Commissioner. Life on the edge. And you? CV

Joe Weeg spent 31 years bumping around this town as a prosecutor for the Polk County Attorney’s Office. Now retired, he writes about the frequently overlooked people, places and events in Des Moines on his blog: www.joesneighborhood.com.

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