By Wendy Langhans
My father celebrated his 87th birthday earlier this month. That’s quite an accomplishment for a man who at one time did not expect to live long enough to see his 23rd birthday.
I came home to Wisconsin to help him celebrate. We went for many wildflower walks over those 10 days. Neither one of us spoke very much; it was simply enough to quietly observe the beauty around us. We took our time and walked slowly, just like when I was a small child. This time however, his age, rather than my short legs, set the pace.
We saw a milkweed blossoming, and I remembered how he once broke a leaf off the stem to show me the milky white sap. “That’s how the flower got its name”, he explained.
I know more now about milkweeds than I did then. Now I can point out the 5 waxy cups surrounding each individual blossom. Insects such as bees and monarch butterflies come to those cups in search of energy-rich nectar. Sometimes their legs slip into the slots between the cups, where the 2 saddle-back shaped pollen sacs are waiting. Perhaps the pollen sacs will attach to the leg. Perhaps the insect will fly over to the next milkweed. Perhaps the leg will slip into another slot. Perhaps fertilization will occur, the wind-bourn seeds will disperse, and next summer a new plant will germinate and grow.
Life is a chancy thing.
In 1943, when my dad was 22, he flew combat missions over Europe in a B-17, at a time when there were no long-range fighter escorts. The casualty rate was ~5% per mission. He flew 41 missions.
Life is a chancy thing. Sometimes it takes years to make even partial sense of it. Happy Birthday, Dad.