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On a tip from a friend, my wife and I altered the route for our morning walk.

For obvious reasons we try to avoid the segment of the Tunnel Hill State Trail adjacent to Harrisburg Middle School during the school year. However, a friend told us the school is surrounded by fields of sunflowers, currently in full bloom.

Wednesday morning was bright and clear with just a hint of cool in the air. As we drove past the middle school to a parking area, I caught a glimpse of the sunflower field. The bright yellow flowers nearly blinded me.

But, the sneak preview was nothing compared to full experience.

The angles of the road had hidden most of the fields while we were driving to the parking area. When we emerged from the woods we were confronted with acres of the spectacular flowers, now in full bloom.

Sunflowers lined both sides of Bulldog Drive. It’s not fair to say the fields stretched as far as the eye could see, but the fields were substantial, larger than expected. And, the thousands of yellow eyes were all turned in the same direction, as if staring at the mid-morning sun.

Rather than doubling back on the trail, we walked the street between the fields. It was a remarkable experience. My wife said it was like walking through a Van Gogh painting.

I had compared the experience to the poppy fields, minus the narcotic effect, in the “Wizard of Oz.” My wife’s characterization was more accurate.

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Walking through the flowers was relaxing. It’s as if our collective blood pressure and heart rates ticked down with each step. We took our time, watching the butterflies flit about. And, the number of honey bees lighting on the flowers was both enlightening and hopeful.

The experience was similar to walking through the large field of zinnias at Rendleman’s Orchard earlier this summer. There is something inherently relaxing about large fields of flowers. Tension just dissipates. It’s almost as if the flowers absorb the world’s extraneous noise.

Wednesday morning, even Beau seemed to understand the beauty of the moment. He dispensed with the normal golden retriever silliness and just walked slowly along the road, allowing us to savor the colors, the quiet and the cool morning air.

But, one look wasn’t enough.

When we returned to the house, I grabbed my camera and headed back to the fields. The flowers, the colors, the lighting, everything was too perfect to pass up. The flowers essentially begged to be photographed.

There were wide angle shots and close ups of the blooms (complete with grasshoppers and bees).

Finally, there was one caveat that made me laugh out loud.

In the middle of the fields was a hand-written sign noting that any donations to the Harrisburg High School FFA for providing the photo op would be appreciated.

If you are in the area, the fields are definitely worth seeing. The FFA has certainly provided a community service.

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LES WINKELER is the outdoors writer for The Southern Illinoisan. Contact him at les.winkeler@thesouthern.com, or call 618-351-5088 / On Twitter @LesWinkeler.

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