Milkweed silk dangling from the pod

Milkweed silk dangling from the pod

As Tisen and I made our way around the park with me keeping an eye out for small things to shoot up close, I spied a milkweed plant with an open pod.  The pod dangled in the breeze with a waterfall of filaments cascading out the front.  It would have resembled a frozen waterfall had it not been bouncing in the wind.

I climbed down the embankment between the walkway and the milkweed, coaxing Tisen to follow once he had sniffed the tall weeds along the way to his satisfaction.  I setup my tripod so the lens was at eye level with the spillage from the pod.

As the wind blew, the filaments moved.  They didn’t just move in the breeze; they were gradually released one by one from whatever force suspended them.  In all the time I stood there waiting on cycles of wind, I saw only 3 or 4 filaments spring free.

I wondered about this process.  I always imagined a milkweed springing open and firing its downy interior into the wind, releasing all of its seeds at once.  Instead, like a parent terrified of becoming an empty nester, it clings to its progeny in a delicate finger hold.  And there the seeds stayed (even the next day), hanging by a thread between the safety of the pod and the freedom of the wind.

Perhaps this allows the milkweed to ensure its seed is spread further–it must take a pretty strong wind to blow the down out of the shell.  But what happens if the seeds remain forever suspended?  Eventually, the shell must rot and fall off the plant.  Are the seeds still viable by the time this happens?  Do they plant themselves at the base of the parent plant?  Do they end up living next door to their parent?  Are there advantages to having an extended family all on the same block?

In this arrangement, what I really see is me.  The feeling of being perched on the edge of freedom with a finger hold on security is a familiar one.  What I yearn for and what I’m willing to give up are diametrically opposed.  I want to jerk the pod off the stem and take it with me as I fly into a new world.

Yet, in the effort to keep the pod, I expend the time and energy I need for flight.

I wonder how the milkweed feels about it.  Does the milkweed silk contemplate whether it really wants to fledge while the pod wonders why it was foolish enough to spring open?

Is it a uniquely human attribute to debate what it is we need to do?  Is it a uniquely human attribute to have choice in what action we will take?  Every time someone makes a statement about what distinguishes humans from the rest of life on the planet, someone makes a discovery that debunks the assertion.  I will not make the mistake of presuming ambiguity is unique to humanity.


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