Sweet Release

Author’s Photo

I’m not just another pretty plant, you know. I happen to play an integral role in the life cycle of the majestic monarch butterfly. Without me, the fluttering orange wings of the Danaus plexippus would become just another marvel that used to happen— back when.

The world is changing at break neck speed these days. No matter how much I beg, it will not slow.

I cannot think, nor speak like humans, but I do have stories to tell. I’ve seen and experienced the turning of the world, while whispering tales to the winds.

Released like the tufted seeds from my pods in autumn, stories float and anchor. Some find purchase in fertile ground, rooting themselves in the minds of storytellers, where they grow ripe and rich.

Botanists call me Asclepias syriaca and classify me as a member of the plant kingdom. To the unscientific, I am simply known as milkweed. Today, you can call me a memory, begging to be released.

Four of her six legs touched down, resting ever so lightly upon one of my leaves. She at first chose a spot near my flowering hat, but then decided a leaf farther down would better shelter her offspring. She deposited one egg on the leaf’s underside, its color only a shade deeper than the milk hidden inside my leaves. With her work complete, Grace floated away without a backward glance.
The woman and boy who’d passed by, poking and prodding me and my neighbors over the last several days, talked excitedly when they found the cream-colored, hidden package. The woman disappeared into the large unnatural structure that blocked the morning sun. She returned with a thin, long, silver stick. She handed it to the boy, touched my stem about a third of the way down and said, “Here.”
It happened so fast, I hardly knew what hit me. I’d been severed.
A good chunk of me was now housed in a glass jar with a blue plastic lid. I assumed that the egg had been captured for observation. Were those sailboats painted on the side of my cramped new home? Without consulting me — or the egg, the boy carried us into the structure.
I missed the sun, wind and rain, but focused my attention on the egg. When I felt the first subtle tug on my leaf, I knew seven cycles of light and dark had passed. The tiny caterpillar tentatively began to nibble on the leaf that sheltered it during its incubation. The little creature was ever so tiny, pale green, and almost translucent. It’s appetite was voracious — it’s growth rapid.
I took note that there were no feathered fliers inside the structure, and found myself glad for the unsolicited sacrifice I’d made, offering my service as breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The probability of the yellow, white and black striped larvae spinning a chrysalis had just exponentially increased — no predators lurking about.
Underneath a gold-tinged, leaf green cocoon, wings would begin to form.
I was intrigued by the constant eyeballs peering through the glass. Sometimes our world would spin as the jar was picked up, turned and searched for signs of change. “Is it still alive, Mommy? I don’t see it,” the boy would sometimes wail.
“Oh, child,” I thought, “It’s alive and well. I can feel the vibrations of miraculous transformation.” From within I knew, the humans meant no harm.
In my wilted condition, I still felt immense joy the night of the grand emergence. How spectacular and delicate her thin black legs felt on my stem! Grace II looked just like her mother.
When the sun rose, familiar eyes peered through the sailboats to find newly unfurled wings and antennae. The woman said to the boy, “The breezes are calling.”
Together they carried the jar outside and gently placed my charge upon a potted purple flower where it slowly levered its wings up and down. I whispered a gentle, “Good-bye and fare-the-well.”
Moments later, I was shook from the jar to the ground below. Knowing my story had been left in good hands, I released it and calmly took my rest.
Author’s Photo