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  • Writer's pictureMj Pettengill

When the Truth Makes Itself Known

Monarch Caterpillar, Milkweed,  Mj Pettengill
Monarch Caterpillar, Milkweed, Mj Pettengill

As I have mentioned before, a lawn mower is a weapon of mass destruction. At least it can be. When it comes to weeds, I have a different perspective than many. I perceive them as gifts from Our Mother, offerings for healing and wellness, and their intelligence has various purposes for other plants and beings in the natural environment. It’s easy to comprehend this when you recall that many so-called weeds show up in waste places where the soil is disturbed.

Why do you think this is? I mentioned earlier that they possess intelligence. Does this mean they know their place and will forfeit a spot in the garden for the abandoned parking lot, crack in the sidewalk, or railroad tracks? Believe me, in some cases, if they had feet, they’d run. In a perfect world, the plants can show up where needed on multiple, complex levels.

For example, over a decade ago, the heart of the pine grove here was cleared to make way for a barn. This well-established grove consisted mainly of Great White Pine. I had trouble with this. I consider them a wise council, witnesses of the past and present, indicators of the possible future.

After the loggers removed trees and stumps, the newly opened field exploded with wild plants. Most people would have invested a great deal of time annihilating them. I, on the other hand, dove into my plant guides. It was remarkable. In their act of coming to the rescue, I was able to broaden my knowledge about wild medicinal plants. There weren’t enough hours in the day to harvest and prepare them. Of course, I followed the wildcrafter’s pledge and picked responsibly.

I allow the plants to lead the way. They nourish the soil and show up where needed. If you look beyond the bad rap that most co-called weeds are known for, they have more to offer than meets the eye. It is beneficial to all to acquire a deeper understanding of how they work.

For example, after the second year, mullein—a biennial—cycles, it will decompose, leaving nutrients necessary for balancing the earth. The more mullein present (without purposely planting), the more the soil is depleted. It is an indicator of soil health. This is why there were so many weeds the first year following the land clearing. They were coming to the rescue.

To comprehend this is a first step in ditching the poisonous weed killers and saving your back. It is not to say that you let everything grow wild and unruly (although I tend to lean in that direction). Take the time to understand what value these renegades offer your land, gardens, and pollinators. There is a reason for plants to show up. No, they are not random. Identify them and then research what the plant indicates is lacking in the soil.

For more on this topic, I recommend reading, The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate, Discoveries from a Secret World by Peter Wohlleben. As difficult as it is to decide, this is my favorite book.

Now, let’s discuss milkweed. I have cultivated two respectable patches on this land. One is on the hill; the other is in the immediate backyard off of the kitchen. I do the mowing; therefore, the milkweed thrives. Both patches grow steadily with each passing season. In the early part of summer, the fragrant flowers attract various pollinators. The monarchs lay their eggs in late August and early September, offering the caterpillars a safe haven.

It didn’t happen overnight. It took time for the patches to expand. Throughout the season, I check them for overall health and sturdiness. I am grateful to spot the caterpillars making their way through the small patch near the kitchen. I track them as I go out to sprinkle bird food on the ground each morning. The last count was sixteen. The number of them on the hill is much higher.

When the seedpods open later in the fall, most scatter in the wind. I collect some and package them for those who wish to grow them, to support the monarchs.

Yesterday, my friend was devastated because the large field near her house was completely mowed. How sad. We are just weeks away from completing the monarch’s cycle and continuing their journey. The only way the monarchs will survive is if they have milkweed.

Please, if you have milkweed growing on your property, consider taking a role as an advocate for the monarch butterflies so that they may continue to grace our world. We must do our part. It isn’t difficult. Understanding the need to mow and spray harmful herbicides on plants is challenging for me. There are alternative ways of plant management without compromising other life forms. We must take the time to comprehend the consequences of our actions, both good and bad.

For those who have read Etched in Granite, I leave you with this quote:

The orange butterfly danced upon the milkweed and called to me. I followed. The departed spirits of those before us return on the wings of the butterfly. The sun was past the middle of the inner sky, when the truth would make itself known. —Nellie Baldwin, August 30, 1872


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