Before We Hit the Ground

Milkweed seed bursting out of pod

Is Autumn the season of reflection and melancholy? Well, in some ways, if only speaking for myself: yes, it is. The current world fades away into the cold, blank canvas of Winter, when the buzz of life will regestate, so to speak, for new life in the new year, in the new world. I look at the Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) pictured in this post [two series of images of the same species], and I see the decaying beauty of pods emptying their tightly packed seeds into the winds of change. It is both difficult and easy to remember a month or two ago, when the flat wide leaves were greenly saturated and stoutly attached, when the clusters of toothy blossoms came in a variety of pink, yellow and white hues. Now the remaining leaves are yellow and limp, if at all; mostly there are tall bare stalks. It is a sharp contrast even for a “weed.” And that is what I guess the average person takes it for (though I would love for someone to prove that notion wrong). Of little use or beauty, an unwanted plant better left to swamps, wild meadows and lakesides. I take it for the King of Leps, the Monarch’s, host plant; a watering hole for Clearwings, their Sphinx relatives and numerous other moths and butterflies; the preferred dining destination of the Red Milkweed Beetle; stomping grounds for aphids and their ant caretakers; and a seemingly endless source of life for numerous other bugs. But now the air has turned, perhaps for the final time, and I (as well as you) are left with pods and seeds.

milkweed seeds in pod

milkweed seeds in pod

The milkweeds are putting out there would-be progeny. Part of me — one of the parts that makes me human, I dare say — remembers that self-contained realm of beauty and life and, remembering it, wants it to last. It is the desire for the permanent, the immortal. But such earthly things do quite the opposite: they wilt, they age, they crumble, they fade, and they die. We are ephemeral beings of ephemeral lives in an ephemeral world, yet I want it to last, to survive, if nothing else to survive — this joy, this time, this life. And I suppose the obvious answer to this hungry desire is in the renewal of life, the thread of reproduction, the coming Spring when it will start over anew, but also again. For plants and insects, whose lives come and go so routinely with the seasons, this renewal makes more than sense: it comforts me, it inspires me, and leads me into new wonders. For me, at least, it is enough…enough for milkweeds and moths, that is.

milkweed seeds

It is here that I am wandering into thoughts about human things: the love of people, the longevity of relationships and the intrinsic value of everything between one person and another. It is, perhaps, humanity’s greatest crime in divorcing itself from nature (however much of a delusion that is), but still I must persist: I do not want love to be a bug, to be a milkweed, coming and going with the given season, living and dying and fading away. I want it to live forever. But what I want does not have much to do with what is. I’ve come to find lately that love is a bug. Love is a weed. And each love has an Autumn, but the dropping of seeds means a new love for the Spring. So where does that leave me? A memory is a memory, is that it? I will tell you: it leaves me in the air, floating on silky threads of floss, somewhere before we hit the ground: it leaves me grateful, blessed, sad and full of this love in fall. But I’m almost there, ready to be covered in the bright white, to find the next season, to fall in love again.

milkweed seeds and pods

milkweed seeds and pods

milkweed seeds and pod


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