Jumping In


Momentum is a funny thing.  The tendency of an object at rest to stay rest often feels overwhelming when that object is me.  Conversely, once I start moving, momentum carries me away, often making it hard for me to return.

On Sunday afternoon, curled on the couch and disappointed that I hadn’t been able to actually nap, the thought of putting on my coat and boots, packing up my gear and heading outside to shoot seemed just silly.

But, between the motion of my husband (is motion contagious?) and my need to have photos to post for the next week and a half, I managed to get up and get myself and Tisen ready for the park.

I liken the feeling of steeling myself to unwrap from a blanket and step into the cold to the feeling of preparing to jump into a pool.

I love to swim.  Moving through the water feels like being home.  The feeling of being buoyed up makes me feel weightless.  I’m not fast, but I re-learned how to swim when I undertook triathlons about a dozen years ago.  In the process, I found a relaxed, meditative way of moving through the water that I could sustain well beyond the time I had to swim.  In fact, I often ran late getting out of the pool because I was enjoying being in the water so much.

None-the-less, even now, just sitting here thinking about how much I like to swim, the thought of going out into the night and taking that initial step into the cold water makes me recoil.  There’s something shocking about going from being warm and dry to being suddenly immersed in water that feels like an ice bath (even when it’s actually a little too warm for swimming laps).  It takes a little extra push to move momentum from rest to motion when I feel like I’m about to jump in the pool.

But having made the leap and gotten myself and Tisen out the door, I was soon kneeling on a garbage bag in the mud finding interesting things I’d never seen before.  Once I got started I didn’t want to stop.  The image above is the last image I shot that day.  It was shot after I got the call from my husband that he was making dinner.  I had already collapsed my tripod and put the lens cap back on, determined to head straight home when I saw this plant.

I don’t know what it is.  I don’t know if the image was worth being late to dinner for, but I was perplexed by the arrangement of the dried stems (or were they shriveled petals?) laced with the silk of milkweed.  At least it looks like milkweed.  There are apparently many, many varieties of milkweed, so it seems reasonable this might be one.

The tones of reddish brown intermittent with the silk against the green grasses in the background just caught my eye.

Leaving the Pod

Waiting for the perfect moment

Waiting for the perfect moment

This was a first for me.  Inside the same milkweed pod spilling its guts in yesterday’s post, a single row of seeds remained, waiting for the order to jump.

Just like the silk dangling from the edge of the pod, these quiet soldiers let go of the pod one filament at a time as I watched.  Their progress was faster than their siblings hanging below.  I watched several threads spring free before my eyes in a matter of minutes.  And they really did spring.  They recoiled from their attachment point as if they’d been pulling against it trying to get free and were suddenly released when they least expected it.  A miniature wrestling match taking place in slow motion.

Having never watched the silk in a milkweed wind itself from its cocoon before, I was disappointed when the show was interrupted by the ring of my cell phone.  My husband hard returned home as was making dinner.  It was time to pack up my gear and make my way back home.

As I was rushing to try to get one last shot, hoping to get something sharp (the blowing wind was not helpful–my moving subject kept blurring on me), two men walked along the walkway.  They looked like they could have been homeless.  Or they could have been something entirely different.  It’s hard to tell.

They stared at me with an intensity that made me nervous.  So, I did what I always do when I’m nervous:  I smiled.

They smiled back at me.  I admit that their smiles did not exactly put me at ease.  Sometimes when someone smiles at you, you feel like you’ve just been smiled at by a shark or an alligator who’s thinking you might make a tasty next meal.

But Tisen looked nonplussed.  I can’t say that Tisen has necessarily demonstrated good judgment of character, but I think he would at least be alert if there were any eminent danger.

As the men walked by, one looked at Tisen and then smiled even bigger at me and said, “That’s an awesome dog.”  I smiled again and said, “Thanks.”  I don’t know who those men were, but at least they had good taste.

I can’t remember having ever been afraid in the park.  The park has an entire collection of security cameras.  There can’t be a square inch that’s out of range of one of them.  I’ve never seen or heard of any crime being committed in the park.  Although, I’m not sure I would know about it–I tend to shy away from the news.

I sometimes feel like I’m the dangerous one lurking in the dark when I walk Tisen long past sunset.  Not that I’m normally dangerous–just don’t make me mad.

As I put the lens cap back on my lens and collapsed the legs of my tripod, I found myself grateful for this pod of a park that provides a safe haven to shoot milkweed.


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.