The Invisible Veil of ConnectionOct 02, 2022
Photograph by Sunira Moses
An ode to letting go of summer and embracing the transition of seasons — harvesting, the natural world and a surprising encounter
Hello Fall Equinox! How can it be October already? As if on cue, Mother Nature turned down the dial on our temperatures here in the Catskill Mountains, which made for beautiful cool nights sleeping with the windows cracked open as summer slipped through our fingers.
Speaking of which, I’m happy to report that my annual post-summer season pilgrimage to the beach, that I shared with you in the last blog…was glorious. As always, my days were filled with languishing in my favorite place in the house we stay at — its hidden front porch. Just off the street with its manicured sidewalks walking distance to the beach boardwalk and the ocean waves — the porch is obstructed and hidden like a secret garden behind beds of hydrangea bushes and milkweed — a perfect place to nestle.
Of course, I love being near the beach, but it’s the porch that I have a true love affair with. Early in the morning I slip out there to sip hot tea and read, mid-afternoon I curl up and nap and daydream to the sounds of the birds chirping all around — and by evening we gather to have evening cocktails and yummy delights as we recount how our respective days played out. I simply adore outdoor space.
It’s interesting how you can visit a place year after year, only to return and see and experience something different that you hadn’t before. While I’ve always loved my time on the porch, I somehow saw it through a different lens this time around.
I suddenly began to pay attention to people passing by on the way to the beach as they regularly stopped in front of the porch where I lay on the sofa tucked away from view. I’d listen to them converse about the garden in all of its glory. The garden and all of its bounty were somehow magnetic.
One afternoon, a particular man was so struck by the pods of the tall milkweed that he stood in front of them and said aloud, “Look at those, how amazing…what are these?” I couldn’t resist… “milkweed,” I responded as if a voice from above. Momentarily stunned, the stranger took a second before realizing where the voice was coming from. Laughing we continued on for a few moments — two strangers in deep appreciation and admiration of nature. Connecting. In fact, we carried on bantering back and forth for a few moments before he was on his way after thanking me. It had been a delightful exchange. It was a little silly, but it made my heart smile.
Though I had never paid much attention to the milkweed here at the house, I’ve always admired it as a plant and I actually knew quite a bit about it. Few realize that milkweed is quite a resilient and useful plant.
Interesting fact: Not only is this plant a host for butterflies like the Monarch and a source of food for moths and Hummingbirds, it also played a role in World War II. When the U.S. was cut off from its supply of Javanese Kapok (a plant tree cultivated for its buoyant seed floss) used to fill life jackets — the Navy needed to find another source.
They found a homegrown solution in milkweed; its seed floss is hollow and coated with a natural plant wax, which makes it waterproof and allows it to float. The federal government paid American schoolchildren 15 cents for every onion bag of unopened milkweed seedpods they collected. Each bag held between 600 to 800 pods, and two bags filled with the pods supplied enough seed floss to fill one life jacket. The navy made 1.2 million life jackets from milkweed seed floss during this time. Now that’s a harvest! I bet you’ll never look at milkweed the same again.
Peeking through the milkweed plant
OK, I know. I’m geeking out about my love of Milkweed plants, history, resourcefulness and even my own personal nostalgia just thinking of my daughter True as a small child collecting baskets full of pods in her little hands. Mother Nature is wondrous if we pay attention. This seemingly mundane plant, that could actually be mistaken for a weed, is in fact quite spectacular. And in admiring her beauty, I allowed myself to step forward from my hiding behind her to connect to another human being in our shared curiosity and wonder.
I thought about these playful interactions that I indulged throughout the rest of my time at the house. There is something so marvelous about tradition — recreating things that hold meaning to us, be it holiday celebrations, foods, rituals or vacations. Always leave room for the unexpected — the magical connection and conversation. You never know where it will lead you — and we never know the importance of these connections with each other. So now, I’m not only grateful for the porch…I feel very thankful for the beds of milkweed that withstand the elements of weather and return yet again each season to greet me — inviting me to rest behind them or indulge in conversation. Win/win.
Here's my takeaway: That gentleman observing the milkweeds was neither living in the past nor future tripping. Rather, he was embracing the present moment and enjoying the ride. As for me, witnessing this was an invitation to do the same. Look around and witness the natural world about you at any given moment. Behold her beauty.
Happy October dear ones. The season of change is upon us. What are you harvesting?
—Lea Haas, Owner, The Garden Cafe Woodstock