Seeding the Cycles of Life

Where do I find joy during a plague of covid and pestilence of politicians without mercy for humans or the Earth? How can I survive this isolation and a long winter ahead?

Holding back helpless tears, I remember the seeds.

“My milkweed flowers dried up this summer,” I said to my friend Steve when we walked on his land last month. “Few plants produced seeds in the summer drought. I know the roots will still send up shoots next year, because a sturdy weed has a few ways to reproduce, but I’ll miss those delicate milkweed parachutes in the autumn wind.”

“Take these,” Steve said, handing me a small bouquet of pods from his plants even though his were sparse, too.

So, on this damp windswept morning with 100% chance of rain, when the weight of hopelessness feels too heavy to bear, I remember the milkweed pods in an open quart container on my kitchen counter. My heart shifts.

I cover the container with a tight lid and carry the pods downhill to an area where milkweed struggled to survive last summer.  Popping the lid, milkweed fluff flutters in the wind while some seeds cling in neat rows inside their pods.

I pick two open pods, shake their stems, and watch hundreds of white parachutes lift and drift, each carrying a tiny brown promise of a milkweed plant. They rise and fly with the gusts, lifting my mood as they go.

Some pods hold tight to their progeny, so I ease those open with a delicate finger and shake them to release more silky seeds. Some sail north across the field, but when the howling wind pauses, they sink toward the earth and nestle into the mowed field. I walk home with my empty container and see milkweed parachutes everywhere, clinging in grasses, hanging on stems, letting go to float where the wind takes them.

In spring, I’ll search for new shoots in that field. Nature is generous with seed, but only a few will find a sheltered spot and send down roots. Their tender sprouts will attract Monarch females searching for a healthy plant to deposit their eggs. Later, I’ll collect tiny ivory eggs for the Monarch nursery, leaving most eggs and tiny caterpillars in the field. I’ll admire the pink blossoms and inhale the spicy floral scent while Monarchs, Swallowtails, Fritillary, and other butterflies suck sweet nectar. I’ll celebrate my own small part in assisting their lives by fostering acres of habitat for butterflies.

Baltimore Checkerspot and Milkweed

On this windy, gray autumn morning, I’m the Milkweed Mother offering a ritual for the Earth. Each seed is a prayer for the return of the Monarchs and the survival of us all.


How are you surviving these pandemic and political chaos days? What brings you joy? How are you staying healthy? I’ll enjoy a socially distant walk with my local son, his girlfriend, and my friend Lisa who is part of my small pod. Then we’ll share special Thanksgiving dishes and separate to feast in parties of two, unless the weather is unusually cooperative and we can eat outside.

For an article about Thanksgiving, see Now Our Minds Are One: An Iroquois Prayer of Gratitude. For an article about my beloved Monarch friends, see Mothering Monarchs, Mothering My Soul.


  1. Elaine–have you ever tried sprouting indoors and replanting? I was considering…

    • I haven’t, Myra. I have so much milkweed in the fields and it usually seeds itself freely. There weren’t many seeds this year, but it will still come up from roots. I imagine it would be easy to do and I wish I’d saved a few seeds to sprout indoors. Maybe I’ll find a few out there. Good idea!

  2. Yow, Elaine. It must feel so good to know you’re a part of the continuation of beauty and life. Sometimes it feels like I just take up space here, like I have no contribution to make to the ongoing of the greater good. I guess what keeps me going is this tremendous gratitude I feel for everything around me, I can still see and appreciate beauty and life, and know that I am incredibly blessed.

    • Robin, the Monarchs make me happy and I love the “intimate relationship” I’ve built with them. Meanwhile it’s winter with the kind of dismal gray days we can get here. I hope some of those seeds found places to snuggle in for winter. About contributions: I look at myself as caretaker of this beautiful land, so we can see that as being selfish or as something the world needs. I see it as something the world needs. Your pond, for example, is a nursery for new life and you take care of it. I think that matters. And kindness matters. You’ve shared plenty of that.

  3. Praise to you, the Milkweed Mother, who finds a way to share joy and hope in nature. I take comfort in the biblical promise: Genesis 8:22
    “While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease,” reminding us of the enduring cycles of life.

    I think we have turned a corner in our country: a vaccine release just weeks away and a new administration moving forward. We are staying healthy by wearing masks when we go out, wash hands often, and take food supplements. We will be staying home for this Thanksgiving; our children are wary about infecting us: the grands are back in school and could be carriers.

    Your photos are lovely. I don’t know how you manage to get such clear closeups. I hope the weather cooperates and you can share a meal on Thursday with loved ones. Even just dessert would be nice! Happy Thanksgiving, Elaine!

    • A perfect quote, Marian. Thank you. The cycle of life continues on. It will be a very different Thanksgiving this year, but knowing that a vaccine and new administration are on the way makes me feel OK about it. If the weather permits, I’ll hike with my local son and his partner tomorrow, but won’t share a meal or indoor space. She’s a counselor seeing students, so we mutually decided it isn’t safe to be together. I’ll have a meal on Thanksgiving with a close friend (she’s making pie) who is very careful, got a cold last week, and just had a covid test to make very sure it was only a cold. She tested negative. Whew!

      I love my little SONY Cybershot for photo close-ups. I’m also not afraid to crop a larger photo to get a close-up. A cell phone camera can’t get that focus although it can be wonderful in good light. A Blessed Thanksgiving to you and yours. Dessert will be fun!

  4. A blessed Thanksgiving to you Elaine; that’s what it’s about, giving thanks – as I do for all that Mother Nature and Mother Milkwood gives. Your photos are gorgeous. We’re on our way tomorrow up to Johannesburg where I hope too see the jacarandas – they may have lost their purple bloom by now. And a friend or 3. But we have to see about our townhouse, recently vacated. A new tenant? Maybe sell? We’ll see. Otherwise I’m feeling end of year fatigue, not least due to the dreadful things happening in our country. May we also turn the corner and get if not a new administration then at least a thoroughly revamped one, with the crooks out and the good ones in. Take care, be safe

    • Thank you, Susan. There’s lots of political relief being felt here but there’s so much division and love of violence. I’m sorry things remain so difficult in South Africa. Those crooks are good at hanging on to power and getting what they want. I hope you see your jacarandas. I hope the next step with the townhouse becomes clear. It’s been a difficult year for the whole world, so we’re bound to feel fatigue, and there’s so much broken. I hope we can get through the inauguration of a new president without too much drama, but that’s unlikely. You take care and be safe, too. May there be beauty on your journey.

  5. Greetings of the Season to you dear Milkweed Mother! Finding joy at the onset of winter is hard, especially following a year of toxic politics, heart-breaking yet totally understandable BLM protests let alone the deadly Covid pandemic which has affected the lives of millions.

    And yet, and yet, joy can still be found in the changing of the seasons and in the beautiful fairy-like seeds of the milkweed … if only we would stop and search a little longer until our hearts and minds catch sight of those hopeful signs. And yet, spring now feels so far away.

    Me, I’ve decided to disappear down a rabbit hole and will stay curled up down there until next spring, hopefully emerging with Persephone and the first draft of a new book in hand. Happy Thanksgiving Day to my dear friend! I hope you enjoy all your seasonal walks and talks. Love and light, Deborah.

    • Sending blessings back to you, Deborah, riding on a milkweed parachute. We’ve had a challenging year–and so has England. I know politicians and business people are in a hurry to get everything moving again, but they forget the cost to ignoring Nature. Her virus is stronger than we could imagine. Spring feels far away,but the season keeps moving. We’re having dreary days as is usual this time of year and haven’t had the coldest snow days, so that’s coming next. At least snow is bright.

      You had said it was time to disappear for a while to give birth to a new book. I will miss our conversations, but I know that if I want to write a Monarch/mythology book, I may need to stop with twice monthly blogs. I don’t have enough energy to keep it all going, but I’ll go where I’m led and where I feel pulled and enthusiastic. Love to you and here’s to the discipline you have to do your work.

      • Oh, a milkweed parachute, I love it Elaine! Ha-Ha! As I grew up believing that all floating seed heads were fairies, I mean the real thing, your comment did make me smile! I think I’ve been longing for winter and a warm, cosy rabbit hole all year.

        Re Monarch Book, how’s this for synchronicity, I’ve just read, “Fashion your pipe! Psyche must keep her focus and not get caught up in rescuing others or trying to fix the present situation when her destiny is at stake.” As always, loving the replies!

        • Life feels complicated. Maybe that’s the world I have to get used to, but I’m struggling to accept that this is what we are as a country in the US. I was a government major in college and I’ve been politically active all my life. I’m still writing postcards for the runoff election for Senate in Georgia–but that leaves less time for my own writing. All will settle into a new place after the coming planetary and political changes. I love the Psyche quote–but can’t yet stop trying to participate in the rescue my country. 25 more postcards to write, so I’m half-way through this batch and then I’m done. I did many more for the major election and didn’t imagine the need would continue, but here it is and I must respond.

  6. I have an overabundance of seeds, so many that the pods and fluff filled an empty kleenex box when the very-late-openers split open 2 weeks ago. I’ll be passing that to a friend who hikes in our local parks and bluffs and so forth; she will distribute them wisely. Meanwhile, I hope it brings you a small measure of comfort that earlier in the month, I had to go to a city 60 miles away for work, and because the weather was decent, I brought an open box of seeds with me. I knew it would be along the highway where milkweed often grows. Guess what I did? I rolled all the windows halfway down and placed the open box of fluff on the passenger seat, and let the wind carry them out! I can only imagine what drivers behind me thought, if they even noticed. I did the same on the return trip, by a slightly different route. I’m sure it was a sight to behold. I found a lot of detached seeds that were torn loose by the wind, trapped in the crevices of the car interior, but a good many made it out into the ditches and field edges. The detached ones were just gathered and tossed where appropriate, and the snowmelt will carry away the rest. Hopefully this will help a bit.

    Just trying to get through this time as best as I can. 4 years ago the 28th is when the nightmare began so I dislike this time of year intensely. There’s nothing to be done but endure it. He hated January and February for his own grief reasons, but now that falls to me while I try to figure out what to do with the pieces of my life.

    • What a wonderful story, Joe. Extreme comfort. I love imagining the milkweed parachutes flying out of your car and I love that you share seeds the way my friend did for me this year. This is the first time I can remember not having an over abundance of milkweed pods and seeds, but also the driest June and July here. It felt great to spread more seeds with rain on the way.

      I’m sorry for the sadness you feel this time of year, especially on the 28th–tomorrow. I hope you create an intentional ritual to honor that day and what needs to come next for you. It seems I will always grieve for Vic and he is still a big part of my inner worlds. Sometimes grief comes like a flood and other times it’s a quiet trickle, but it’s always there. So many of us, including me, feel shattered by life right now. I hope for a turning in December and January and the planetary configurations seem to support that hope. Often, when I feel completely lost, the right path or the next step appears as a surprise. I hope you find joy and beauty this winter. I’ll remember the image of those flying seeds and the wise and whimsical you who had the idea to release them in that joyful way.

  7. I must pass again on plants experience! I am an absolute dump on this but I know and regard you and your heart how close in with nature. Therefore, I just look forward to the next Spring to come, with the beautiful Monarch. About us; we are trying our best; Regina, my adorable wife, is giving her best to do her work; teaching in the special school; Mamre-Patmos ( a promotion school for the handicapped and disabled children and adolescence in Bethel) and of course there are a lot of complications caused by Covid-19, but she does her job full-heartedly. And I am mostly at home alone as a retired man though I must work now and then to fill up the holes of my miserable pension. I don’t think about this virus as I didn’t when I worked full-job, I have just thought that if I consider about it to much it makes me fear, and I know fear is all the worst of all. Stay safe and patient my dear wise friend, the good time comes again.

    • Nature is the boss as we’re learning so clearly this year. Your wife’s work is so important and I can only imagine how hard it is with covid. My niece works with the blind who often have multiple handicaps, so closing down schools on and off has been especially hard for these kids who need the most support. I don’t fret about the virus for myself, but tend to stick close to home and only see a few people. There are parts of this country where it’s out of control and people still refuse to take small precautionary measures. Humans are hard to understand.

      Life has changed dramatically in many ways, but I do well with being alone and keep in touch with friends. I take a mythology class and a Zoom class on line and talk to a dream therapist a few times a month, so those things help, but the best thing is to go outside and walk in nature without a mask because I’m alone. It seems you’re doing more writing than before, so that’s a gift to yourself and to everyone else. You stay safe and patient, too, and watch the plants as they go through their transitions. They have much to teach us.

      • I will do watch the plants and will keep walking more often in nature, promise. In our backyard, we have a small garden and as I’ve mentioned, there are many more birds flying around as the latest years and that might we thank Covid!? This is also a lesson.

        • The plants and wildlife are mood elevators and teachers and always tied to mythology and the unconscious. The air and sky like it when humans quiet down and stay home.

  8. Marion put into words what I was thinking as I read your piece: “Praise to you, the Milkweed Mother, who finds a way to share joy and hope in nature.”
    You are, indeed, a caretaker of the beautiful land on which you live, and I can only see it as you do, Elaine, as something the world needs(to which I would add “desperately”).
    I also find joy in my walks alone in nature, and your writing inspires me to deepen my my attention. Thank you, once again, for sharing so generously both your strength and your vulnerability with your readers.

    • I miss those Monarchs mightily with snow on the ground here–but only an inch and the sun is shining today. Last night was cold and clear and a friend sent a text to remind me to look outside at the Jupiter-Saturn conjunction in the western sky. They’re getting so close to their celestial meeting on Winter Solstice. December 21 will be a glorious sky night, so I hope it’s clear–but if it’s not I’ll look at photos taken by others. It feels essential to praise each gift from nature as our country and families and climate struggle unsuccessfully to find a reasonable balance. It feels essential to help nature thrive any way we can. West coast Monarchs are at extinction levels this year, but so far the Eastern Monarch population is holding in Mexico at their overwintering sites. Eastern Monarchs didn’t have to contend with extreme heat, drought, and fires. Yes, I feel vulnerable these days. I think we all do, including those who won’t wear masks or stay at home. Blessings to you and your family.

Leave a Reply