Vermont Public is independent, community-supported media, serving Vermont with trusted, relevant and essential information. We share stories that bring people together, from every corner of our region. New to Vermont Public? Start here.

© 2023 Vermont Public

Public Files:

For assistance accessing our public files, please contact or call 802-655-9451.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Looking for live TV? Click below.

Coffin: Milkweeds

(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.

(Coffin)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 spread.

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.

Sometimes 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.

Howard Coffin is an author and historian whose specialty is the Civil War.
Latest Stories