A few mornings ago, I pulled the pickup off the shoulder of a nearby rural road and looked at what a passing autumn had left of a big patch of staghorn sumac. Not long ago the sumac clump was a glorious sight—it's multitudes of long leaflets a flaming scarlet, like head-feathers on a Lakota war bonnet. Now the leaves were mostly down, the patch in tatters, and only a hint or two of red could still be found in the drying clutter beneath the twisted branches.
I'd stopped because of what lay behind the sumac thicket—the start of a narrow path, invisible from the road, which leads into the old field. If you follow it long enough, this track—really not much more than a game trail—will lead you across the weedy meadow, over a low hillock, and beyond to the banks of the same river on which my cottage sits a couple of miles downstream. Alas, my time was limited, stolen between errands, and I knew I couldn't make it to the water—but I also needed to get outside for a bit, stretch my legs, breathe the crisp November air and feel the sun on my face.
A hundred yards in I paused to photograph a milkweed seed pod which had split open, the bright morning sunlight sparkling off its exposed seeds and silks. The larvae of monarch butterfly feed solely on milkweed. Milkweeds belong to the genus Asciepias, named after the Greek god of healing because of the plant's long history in folk medicine. My grandfather taught me to rub milkweed sap on a poison ivy rash—and it does seem to work, at least about as well as any store-bought remedy.
Suddenly a gusty autumn wind blew across the open field, bending the dried stems of Queen Anne's lace, goldenrod, and purple coneflower. Milkweed seeds began streaming up and away, caught on the stiff currents, carried to a hundred distant corners of the meadow and who knows how far beyond. In less time than it takes to tell, the seed pod I'd been photographing was an empty husk.
On the way back to the truck it struck me that what I'd just witnessed was something I wish I'd learned far earlier in line—that sometimes it's simply best to let go and be carried by the wind. As a hard-core perfectionist and control-freak, it took me way too long the realize how often I stood in my own way. Goals and plans and a sense of direction are good things; don't get me wrong. But so are providence and serendipity. Sometimes it's best to forget strategy and intent and embrace the whimsical, the unexpected, the moment of adventure which can lead you to worlds beyond your wildest dreams.
This is the milkweed's philosophy—be ready, and when the right wind comes along…just turn loose and go.
NOTE: Bonnie, at Original Art Studio, recently asked if I'd be part of her ongoing series of blog interviews. I was both honored and humbled, and more than a bit anxious because I don't think I'm all that interesting—especially considering the quality of the interview subjects who preceded me. Nevertheless, I hope you follow the link above and see what you think—and then, read a few more of Bonnie's always interesting posts. If you've not made Original Art Studio's acquaintance already, you'll be glad to have found her blog.
And…I thank you, Bonnie, for making this whole process fun (really!) in spite of my initial fears.