Wednesday, November 2, 2011

windy autumn day

windy autumn day --
cattails molting, their fluffy
seeds blowing away

Wind from the south, strong, blowing my hair into snarls. I stop to admire a family of cattails residing in the no-man's-land between the highway and the cornfield. Their beautiful brown coats are molting, the "fur" blowing away in the wind. One of them looks like she is having a bad hair day. Some of the seed fluff will hang on the stem all winter, looking like bedraggled dust mops. In the spring any birds will use this fluff to line their nests. 
          Cattails like to have wet feet, thriving in marshes and the edge of ponds, so I'm glad to see that these have survived the summer drought in what is now a very dry ditch. When they have plenty of water they grow faster than fertilized corn in the field. They spread not only from the many seeds of the brown "tails" but also through their creeping rhizomes that send up new shoots quickly. Many animals use the dense cover formed by cattails, especially red-winged blackbirds, mallards, Canada geese, wild turkeys, deer, raccoons, cottontails, muskrats, frogs and fish. 
          People use cattails in a variety of ways. Native Americans prepared and ate all parts of the plant. They used the leaves to weave baskets and mats and the fluffy seeds to insulate clothes and moccasins. Pioneers used the fluff for stuffing pillows and quilts. The stems can be used to make glue and the pollen is sometimes used in fireworks. We have neighbors who have a managed wetland septic system that uses cattails to filter the runoff.  
          To me, cattails are beautiful in their sleek youth, gaining character as they age. 

A warrior, wearing a fur hat and fur-trimmed coat trimmed, carrying a lance, standing stoically, his weather-browned face turned to the wind.

Ma and Pa Kettle, Pa sporting a bristly mustache and beard, Ma wearing a stylish blonde bouffant.

An old man with a long white beard wearing a brown felt top hat, his faithful sheepdog sitting at his feet.

A clown with a bulbous nose and wide white grin leans over to get in the act.

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