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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Stop and Smell the Milkweed

As another summer launches, trees ringing with birdsong and meadows bright with wildflowers, everything seems to be happening at once, and I get a panicky feeling (completely unreasonable, I know) that there will be nothing left for July and August. Yesterday I began a list of what’s blooming now, a list which is surely not comprehensive (how many did I miss?), and here it is, not in alphabetical order or arranged by families or color but just as I took down the names:

St. Johnswort, bladder campion, daisies, coreopsis, cow vetch, clover (red, white, yellow), buttercups, goatsbeard, daisy fleabane, birdsfoot trefoil, leafy spurge, wood lily, soapwort, spiderwort, milkweed, hawkweed (orange and yellow), cinquefoil, sedum, sweetpea, beach pea, mustard, roses (all kinds, including wild shrub forms), vervain, harebells, all kinds of grasses, catalpa (tree) and highbush cranberry (shrub). The flowers! How many I have left out! And all too soon they will be gone for another year!

This happens to me every May, every June, every July and August. The flowers in bloom at any given time are my favorite flowers, and it’s hard for me even to remember what will come next until its time arrives, so I worry that the fields will become bare. I do know that we have coneflowers to look forward to, and Queen Anne’s lace, and asters—but then my mind goes blank, returning me to the present beautiful moment. Not a bad place to be on June 22.

Another not-bad place to be is within a hundred pages of the end of A Suitable Boy, though I have mixed feelings about finishing the novel at all. The friend who loaned it to me (urging me, when my eyes widened in dismay at its size and weight, to read “just the first hundred pages) said that one of her relatives had “lived in the story for a whole summer.” There again! As it is with the roses, soon I must leave Lata and Maan and Rasheed and Haresh and Mrs. Rupa Mehra, the Nawab Sahib of Baitar, baby Uma and all the other characters and move on to the next book of the summer and my life. There is no hurry, yet neither is there any slowing of the process. I turn pages quickly, impatient to learn what will happen next in India in the early 1950s. Oh, but the characters! How many I have not mentioned!

Mrs. Mahesh Kapoor was dead, and felt nothing, this ash of hers and sandalwood and common wood could be left to the doms at the cremation ghat to sift for the few pieces of jewellery which had melted with her body and were theirs by right. Fat, ligament, muscle, blood, hair, affection, pity, despair, anxiety, illness: all were no more. She had dispersed. She was the garden at Prem Nivas (soon to be entered into the annual Flower Show), she was Veena's love of music, Pran's asthma, Maan's generosity, the survival of some refugees four years ago, the neem leaves that would preserve quilts stored in the great zinc trunks of Prem Nivas, the moulting feather of some pond-heron, a small unrung brass bell, the memory of decency in an indecent time, the temperament of Bhaskar's great-grandchildren. Indeed, for all the Minister of Revenue's impatience with her, she [his wife] was his regret. And it was right that she should continue to be so, for he should have treated her better while she lived, the poor, ignorant, grieving fool.

-Vikram Seth, A Suitable Boy


Loreen Niewenhuis said...

Nice photos! I'm always surprised by the complexity of the milkweed blooms. Gorgeous.

Hey, thanks for sharing my lake trek story with Kathy Drue!

-Loreen Niewenhuis

P. J. Grath said...

Hi, Loreen. Are you feeling land-bound these days? Yes, Kathy is a good connection and lots of fun, as well as a real lover of Michigan and the Great Lakes. As for the milkweed, I can't believe it's been around me all my life. Seems only in the last few years have I paid it the attention it deserves. And its perfume is just the sweetest!

Dawn said...

I didn't realize milkweed smelled good. I did notice a couple of days ago that it's ready to bloom here and I thought "NO! It's too early! Isn't this supposed to be blooming in August? Everything is too early! Summer is too early! Help!"

P. J. Grath said...

I have those feelings every year, Dawn, but this summer is particularly odd and out of joint, thanks to an early spring followed by frosts. It's only a little over a week until the St. Wenceslaus chicken dinner. Some years there are cherries for sale at the rummage sale there, and some years there are strawberries. Will there be both at once this year? That would be strange!

Do get up close to milkweed blossoms--watch out for bees--and inhale deeply through your nose. They put roses in the shade!

Loreen Niewenhuis said...

I DO feel land-bound, but am getting to the lake as often as possible these days.

Your post inspired me to make a video of all the flowers I passed on my Lake Trek. It's up on my blog now. There is also a photo on the post of a strange, yellow flower I saw in the UP that I'd never seen before. Any help from you or your readers?

Oh, and I learned in my research that it is common for only ONE of the tiny flowers in each milkweed bloom to get fertilized. The number of pods in the fall are the number of tiny flowers successfully pollinated. Apparently it's quite difficult for bugs to transfer pollen between those tiny, gorgeous five-point, flowers.

-Loreen Niewenhuis

P. J. Grath said...

Loreen, I went back to look at your yellow flower. I'm baffled! Also tried the videos, but some part of watching them eludes me, too. I got into one, saw two images, then got bounced out again. I don't watch many videos, though, so the fault is probably my own cluelessness.