Ancient History

Follow Me?



My parents wouldn’t have approved of the way I tossed my yellow bicycle down the embankment of the farmer’s Highline canal. I scrambled down the steep slope after it, stepping around slick, dried-smooth stalks of thrush and somber-gold cattail carcasses. The opening chords of spring exhaled perfect days for riding the smooth, compacted floor of the empty canal, drained five months earlier of undercurrent and swirl.

As I pedaled, I imagined a man in a hard hat a few miles away. He’d be wearing big gloves and big boots and he’d have a big truck. He’d hold a silver metal wheel and turn it for the anxious farmers who were already burning their piles of the noxious pulled dead. A gritty concrete door would slide open under his grandfatherly authority, allowing the Colorado river to thunder into the void of the canal, it’s fists numb from knocking all winter.

I thought the torrent might be rushing toward me on my bike as my feet went up and down and up and down. It was vaguely thrilling and made me feel like a girl of adventure and daring. I could never shame a river’s force and I was never truly in danger—but it couldn’t stop me from tricking the heartbeat out onto the sleeve of my little canal-dirtied coat. See me, river? Ride faster!

Trash collected between rocks, blown into the walled safety and rest of a manmade canyon. Some of the rocks looked familiar, brown and bland and possibly thrown in by me and my friends the previous summer when we’d scream at thin snakes and then at each other in mock horror: oh my gosh, it almost bit me!

Pedaling could become difficult when the silt became thick and soft, deposited perhaps by a nearby construction crew. I kept going to get to the place of the milkweeds. Then I could be done. Then I could drag my bike up the slope and onto the adjacent dirt road. Then I could go home and say I had a nice bike ride.

The milkweed pods were marooned boats. They were empty, crisp, fragile, and puzzling. The inside surface was smooth like a shell my grandma had in her bathroom, a sovenier from her trip to Hawaii. The outside was prickly and bumpy—hollow for filling, wisp bowls for white seeds sailing. Milkweed pods were for mostly for emptying and for girls on their bikes to find, blown into the path of rubber wheels and danger upstream. They were for the wind that also blew my hair into my mouth to spit out and out again because it was relentless. Sometimes the wind found its way into the trench where I’d ride my bike those days when I was ten, lonely but never alone.

My fifth grade teacher would give a candy bar to the child who could bring in the most milkweed pods the next Monday morning.

I won.

7 comments to Milkweed

  • Mom-of-mopsy

    The things I learn from reading your blog!! What did your teacher do with all the milkweed pods and what kind of candy bar did you get? Inquisitive minds want to know now that I know you didn’t get swepted away by the flood gates being opened. I’m glad you were reckless when it was safe!

  • Mopsy, you just…you are an amazing writer. Truly, you have a gift with words.

  • How cool is *that* memory? Just about the coolest, I’d say. I wish I’d known you when you were ten…I’m not sure how old I would have been, but I’m almost certain we would have been fast friends.

  • mopsy

    Mom—it was Nestle Crunch. My favorite. I have no clue what Mrs. Sparn did with the pods. Maybe for her personal use because I don’t remember using them in class.

    I always saved my recklessness for when it was safe. Isn’t that the best time?

  • BEAUTIFUL writing. Wow.

  • Wow indeed!

    So was your 5th grade teacher mean? Her name conjures up images of half glasses, a too-tight bun and angry eyebrows. But I’m thinkin’ any teacher who gave out Crunch bars as a prize had to be extremely likable. Yum!

  • Such a way with words! I can always picture the things about which you write so well!

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