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.
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.