The Fox Lake Road is carved out of the woods in the center of Beaver Island. Barely wide enough for two cars to pass, there are no shoulders or ditches. The countryside rises up on either side, higher than the road.
There are disadvantages. There are times, in the spring of the year, when the Fox Lake Road runs like a river, with twelve inches or more of icy water held within it’s banks. Grading the road is a constant and thankless job, as every rain creates more dips and puddles in the surface. The road trucks cut gouges – ugly, but necessary – intermittently into the road side, to allow the run-off of snow-melt and rainfall.
There are assets, too. As I look off into the woods while walking the Fox Lake Road, glorious and ever-changing views of the forest floor rise up on either side of me. From spring green ferns, to autumn leaves, to velvet blankets of snow, it’s always a good show. In late summer, blackberries growing along the roadside can be plucked from the vines from an open car window.
This time of year, the raggedy mop-heads of the aromatic milkweed plants are right at nose level. This is perfume season! I heard once that there is a famous French scent that is derived from the milkweed flower. That doesn’t surprise me. There are few flowers that could compete with the heady fragrance of milkweed.
Milkweed grows wild in the fields and open spaces here on Beaver Island. When it moves in to yards and gardens, it is pulled as a weed. The plant has thick, flat leaves and a fat stalk that oozes a gooey white substance when cut. After blooming, large rough-textured pods form on the stalks. Eventually, the pods burst open revealing a mass of seeds, each attached to a white feather to help carry it on the wind.
During World War II, school children here gathered milkweed pods “for the war effort.” The pods were sent off in huge bundles and bags, and used to make flotation devises for the soldiers. The children did such a good job, they almost wiped out a butterfly!
Beaver Island is one of the stops on the migratory path of the Monarch Butterfly, and milkweed is the primary food source for the Monarch caterpillar. As the plants declined, so did the butterflies. Thankfully, both recovered. Most folks are happier for the butterfly than they are for the plant.
I can’t help but think that if people only knew how good it smelled, they’d feel differently about milkweed. If it were a bit more attractive…a little less invasive…and perhaps had a better name, it would be the most popular flower in every garden. As for me, I’ll continue relishing every walk down the Fox Lake Road, now in the thick of perfume season!