One Milkweed Pod

Walking this morning with Frank, I passed a milkweed that had produced a large horn-shaped pod, and I felt an immediate upsurge of joy. Given my practice of seeing small, I knew to pay attention. While it’s lovely to take immediate note of what gives me joy, I’ve learned that I receive many more gifts by spending a few moments absorbing this emotion. So while Frank and I continued on our way, I held the milkweed and its pod in my mind’s eye and followed the lightness coursing its way throughout my body.

It wasn’t long before Iowa City came to mind, not only how happy I was attending the Writers’ Workshop there, but also my newly discovered relationship with the natural world. Before Iowa, growing up in suburban Philadelphia, I hardly paid attention to what grew around me. Trees were trees to me, and though I might occasionally stop and admire foliage in autumn or magnolia blossoms in the spring, most trees remained nameless. The same was true of plants and flowers. I might admire an entire garden, or oooh and aaaah over a rhododendron in bloom, but I rarely focused my attention on individual plants.

All this changed in Iowa City, where a friend took a botany course on trees, and shared with me all she was learning. At least once a week my first fall in the Workshop, we’d stroll around town, my friend naming trees and pointing out their characteristics and qualities. For the first time in my life, on my walks each day to and from the English Philosophy Building, I recognized what I passed as individuals with distinctive appearances and personalities.

I began visiting Hickory Hill Park and its local woods to acquaint myself with its trees and plants. Each spring, the wild flowers began blooming in March, starting with bloodroot and transitioning to trillium and jack-in-the-pulpit. The first spring I learned to identify each plant, and by the following March, eagerly anticipating each new bloom, I watched closely as shoots found their way through the soil.

In Iowa, I also learned about milkweed and the monarch butterflies that lay their eggs on the plant, the larva feeding on the leaves, which provide them a lifelong protective toxicity. I still remember roaming about Iowa City late spring or early summer, catching sight of just-hatched monarchs resting momentarily on the plant that had nourished them from larva to pupa to butterfly.

All these memories, all this intimate and personal connection to the world wafted through and around me, as if from a magic amphora, when I took the time to follow my pleasure from the milkweed pod in my Berkeley neighborhood, all the way back to Iowa City, 40 years ago.

A Note: I apologize for disappearing for a while. Through a magic that I don’t quite understand, I have begun writing poems again, just as I did all those years ago in Iowa City, where I first encountered milkweed.

Marrakech Wall

1 thought on “One Milkweed Pod”

  • There are the small memories too. Those brief recollections that can connect us surprisingly to the present. I see those in your story.

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