Coffin: Milkweeds

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(Host) As winter settles in and the days get shorter, outdoor ‘things to do’
become ever more precious. On a recent walk, author, historian and
commentator Howard Coffin encountered milkweeds gone to seed.

With the leaves down and the Vermont landscape ready for snow, when
walking old pastures I try to give the milkweeds a hand. I love
milkweeds, love the new plants in late spring cooked and served with
butter, salt and pepper. And the beauty and fragrance of milkweed
blossoms are a seldom recognized highlight of high summer. As I see it,
the more milkweeds the better.

Milkweeds are a clever plant.
Their seeds grow in pods that swell until, when their skins dry and
harden, they burst forth and, hopefully, are borne away on the same
breezes and winds that bring in winter. That’s how their seeds are

Trouble is, in this imperfect world, many seeds don’t
escape the pods. That’s where I come in. When I spot the white signal of
trapped seeds, I break the stem, hold the pod aloft, and give a good
shake. And off they go on the Vermont winds to start new milkweed
plants, somewhere.

It’s a thrill to watch them go, floating
along, the way angels must fly if they exist, all silvery and silent.
One day this fall, I loosed a flurry of seeds from a Berlin hilltop.
They caught a west wind and rose and rose, until they topped the Barre
hills and disappeared into a mackerel sky.

I used to do this
with my daughter and her friends. How they’d laugh, and chase the seeds.
Vermont is so very full of fun things to do, free of charge. For
instance, we used to build tiny boats of scrap lumber and set them
adrift in a river. Then we’d follow the shoreline to see how far they’d
go. Once, we put a small flotilla of little craft in the Connecticut
River and followed it with a car, from White River Junction, past the
dangers of Sumner’s Falls, to somewhere south of Hartland.

we’d recover our boats to float again. If not, we understood that they,
and the little wooden captains on board, were happiest when setting out
for the sea, even from deep in the New England hills.

This fall
after setting a hundred hundred seeds aloft, I started home across a
mown parkland. In its midst lay one of my fallen seeds. There, even if
it took root, a mower would eventually come and chop it down. So I held
it in my palm and blew it into the air again. It looped on what seemed a
little cyclone of wind and, clearing a modest maple tree, headed toward
Montpelier, disappearing against a gray winter-filled sky.

Sometimes it’s amazing what something, or someone, can do, if just given a chance.

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