I really loved them as a young child. Each one felt so silky! You had to hold her just right so as not to ruffle her delicate “wings.” If you gripped her tightly, you would cripple her and instead of sailing away on the breeze to her destiny, she would plop to the ground at your feet. Then, she would look up and shake her little seed husk at you and wonder how you could be so clumsy.
It wasn’t only that milkweeds looked and felt cool and seemed expressive. According to lore and superstition, they were magic! If you captured one and then made a wish on it, and let it go, your wish would come true!
Even as a small child, I was rather a doubting Thomas. But then again, even though I could see no possible way it could work like that, why would my parents lie? Maybe it could work. Maybe it would only work sometimes. And even if I didn’t believe my wish would necessarily come true, there was always a chance, right? If this little ritual played itself out with a group of friends, that made it even more fun because they believed it would definitely work.
Who would imagine that milkweed plants would develop a parachute for their seeds to spread? You know who else likes milkweed plants? Monarch butterflies. And do you know one reason they like them? It makes them taste bad to predators. Since they have a distinctive pattern, the predators avoid them. And not just them. Some butterflies have apparently evolved to look like Monarch butterflies so the predators also avoid them even though they don’t feed on the milkweed and presumably taste bad, though I cannot confirm this with personal observation. I have never tasted butterfly. (Well, not knowingly).
Many of those spritely silk spheres fall on fallow ground. Some don’t receive enough water. Some sprout deep in some sad and sunless sewer. Deprived of light, she shrivels and dies. Others may wash out to sea. More than a few swirl helpless into toxic substances. There are a lot more of those around these days. Have you noticed? Milkweed has. And so have millions of other species. Yet, they are surviving. Barely. And the Monarchs are surviving. Barely.
And what about us? What about we humans? If we are surviving by destroying entire species at a rate to rival a direct meteor hit on our planet, what does that say about us? That we are thriving? Or just surviving?
Meanwhile, the milkweed seeds still disperse. It seems a fit symbol for hope. Because, every so often, a milkweed finds those perfect conditions and she grows into a beautiful plant who in turn provides nourishment for a beautiful bouquet of butterflies, including the Monarchs. Not all milkweed seeds thrive, but when they do, they really know how to thrive and enjoy their thrivingness. They are an apt symbol of hope.
If you do something kind for no benefit or reward, that too is a symbol of hope. You have dropped a pebble of kindness into the fountain of society. If enough people do that, the water itself will stay vibrant and healthy. If hardly anyone drops a pebble of kindness, the society will stagnate and stink. I have seen milkweed seeds stuck on the surface of polluted puddles. Such seeds … and deeds … do not always strike fertile ground. But when they do, it can be amazing!
And by simply making a wish on the magic milkweed seed; by doing a kind deed; if there are enough seeds, enough deeds — the tree of life will flourish. And so will you.