This morning I walked around taking pictures of end-of-summer flowers. The native purple thistles brighten the landscape accompanied by splashes of yellow. Various sunflowers are beginning their end-of-life display. The tall native common sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) are now announcing their presence at the edges of barns, along fences, beside trees and in the open fields.

This morning I walked around taking pictures of end-of-summer flowers. The native purple thistles brighten the landscape accompanied by splashes of yellow. Various sunflowers are beginning their end-of-life display. The tall native common sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) are now announcing their presence at the edges of barns, along fences, beside trees and in the open fields. Maximilian’s sunflowers (Helianthus Maximiliani) have some blooms, but October is their month. The patches of rough sunflowers (Helianthus hirsutus), a shorter species with fuzzy leaves, have just started to show their yellow faces. Since we are into yellow, I shall include the fine-leaf sneezeweed (Helenium amarum.) This classy native was named after Helen of Troy. Several cultivars, such as “Ring of Fire”, “Butterpat” and “Moerheim Beauty” have been developed to grace yards and gardens. There is even the UK National Collection of Heleniums (sneezeweeds) located at Yew Tree House in Hankelow, a small village in the county of Cheshire in northwest England.

The sneezeweed leaves are eaten by ghost moth larvae. The plant attracts bees, butterflies and other insects when the interesting flowers appear. The bright flaxen petals are three lobed, but the centers appear as small puffy deep golden balls. The delicate fine leaves add to the attractiveness of this plant that may reach over one foot in height. This seems to be a banner year for sneezeweed as the plants are everywhere. Are you put off by the common name sneezeweed? Are you thinking pollen? Don’t. Helenium leaves were dried and crushed to make a snuff. The powder when inhaled caused the person to sneeze. This rid the body of evil spirits and bad mojo. Strong medicine.

We family members gathered last weekend for barbecue. With me came two small tomato plants (a Cherokee Purple and a cherry tomato) to replace the long gone Black Krim tomato and a packet of my favorite salmon. My son opened his cabinet to show me his collection of salmon (identical to mine), grinned and said not only were ribs in the smoker, but a salmon fillet was ready to be grilled. A lively discussion then ensued about this fish that can be served in sushi, salads, ready to eat pouches, smoked, canned, or fresh.

Salmon are truly magical. The life cycle of this fish is complicated and some consider transcendental. The salmon is a Keystone Species, a critical component of its ecosystem. If removed, the impact would be huge. The ecosystem could even disintegrate and disappear. Other keystone species include jaguars, lions, gray wolves, beavers, fig trees, hummingbirds, prairie dogs, eels, sharks and even sugar maple trees.

The nutritious bodies of salmon bring nitrogen, carbon, sulfur and phosphorus from the salty oceans directly to land animals and into the forest ecosystem of rivers and trees. Grizzly bears, black bears, otters, sea lions, seals, wolves, deer, bald eagles and man are all involved in this dramatic cycle of life. Salmon are evasive, quick and can sense chemical molecules produced by animals. Survival is the name of the game since salmon encounter great obstacles throughout their lives, which may last 3 to 8 years, depending on the species and good luck.

Seven species of salmon live in the Pacific Ocean, but one species is in the Atlantic. Salmon begin and end their lives, if this is their destiny, in the same gravel beds of a fresh water river. The gravel spawning grounds provide safe havens for females that come to lay their eggs. The lady will seek out a bubbly stream and excavate a large nest in the gravel that may cover 30 square feet. She lays up to 5,000 pea-sized orange eggs. An interested male will deposit sperm over the eggs, and she covers them with gravel. Her work is not yet done. The female may make seven nests before her egg supply is depleted. If she is a Pacific salmon, these species spawn only one time and then soon die. Up to 10% of the Atlantic salmon, most being females, may live another day to swim back out to sea where they regain their strength in preparation for another run in the future.

After 2 to 6 months, the orphaned eggs hatch. The babies hide and eat, living in their gravel nurseries for about 3 years. The juvenile fish then undergo a transformation to help them adapt to salt water. They hang out in brackish salty-fresh water estuaries until the next spring. When their bodies are ready to handle higher salt levels, the salmon smolt swim to the ocean and find each other, forming schools. Four or five years later, the mature salmon undergo yet again another metabolic change in their muscles designed to provide short intense surges of energy. They need this adjustment to help them swim back home to reproduce. They actually often return to the very gravel beds where they were born. An amazing unexplained mystery that tugs at the heart strings.

I have a split household. Not only does my partner have a degree from OU, he would rather go make himself a peanut butter sandwich if I mention salmon. He’s outnumbered. The cats love salmon.

The Pottawatomie County Free Fair opens this week: September 6th through 9th. The Fairbook is posted on-line, so get those plants, fruits, veggies, grasses, decorated melons (please do not carve the melons), scarecrows and other things ready. Registration and check-in will be on Wednesday afternoon (Sept 6th) until 6 pm. Our Multi-County Master Gardeners and others will be there to assist you. Arts and Crafts, booths and other entries are set up this day. Farmhand Olympics start at 6 pm.

Thursday (Sept 7th) the judging of various competitions takes place. The Fetch and Fish Dog Show is throughout the day and continues at set times each day of the fair until Saturday evening. The Grand Opening of the Free Fair is at 5 pm for the fair

exhibits, trade booths, the Carnival (which also runs through Saturday) and tractor contests. Look for the attractive plant entries with their ribbons.

Friday (Sept 8th) is school day with assorted animal shows and exhibits. The 4-H and FFA team horticulture contest entries begin 5:45 pm with the contest starting at 6:00 pm. Tractor contests, the County Barrel Racing Contest and Gospel Singing will end the day. Check out the exceptional home grown veggies and fruits.

Saturday (Sept 9th) is devoted to horses, sheep and swine. The livestock judging contests take place as does the Oklahoma Jr. High and High School Rodeo. See the displays, demos, BBQ contest, kid’s events and the awards assembly. Wicked Scarecrows and decorated melons beckon to you.

Sunday (Sept 10th) it’s all over. Everything needs to be taken down and away by 11:00 am. Last round of the Jr High and High School Rodeo starts at 10 am. Just think. The OK State Fair in OKC starts Sept 14th-24th, and the Tulsa State Fair begins Sept 28th-Oct 8th. Whoo Hoo. Fairtime!