Without thinking I threw the old seed into a bag of moist liverworts that I would be looking at under a powerful microscope with my scientist friend Al in a couple of days. I have no idea why I added the seed. The scarlet runner was one I kept in a winter bouquet that I had recently dismantled. The purple and rose bean had to be four or five years old. It would not germinate now …
Imagine my astonishment when I opened the bag in the lab. The bean had sprouted! The fat twisted root was hunting for earth. Carefully I re – wrapped the bean and put it in a little container until I could get home and plant it, but not before we looked at it under the microscope. More about that later.
Every spring it’s the same… the hunger to begin starting seeds. As a woman and an eco -feminist I am convinced that this need to work with seeds and soil is an ancient pattern that stretches back to our egalitarian matriarchal beginnings.
Some of us like me come from a family of gardeners so there is something to say about the influence of our ancestors directing this process on a personal level. Both patterning and ancestral influences seem to work together. Another “both and”.
After I broke my foot last year I was forced to cease gardening altogether out of necessity because I could no longer use a shovel. If I am really honest I can say I was more than ready to let go. I have grown both vegetables and flowers since I was a child, then while raising a family. At mid – life when I moved to the mountains I made (what seems today) a radical decision. I decided to plant trees, plants and flowers primarily for non – humans in a small area around my house. Nature determined what grew and thrived on the rest of my land. Today people call this re-wilding but then my intention was simple. I wanted to give back to nature what S/he had given to me. I wanted nature to be the receiver.
The patenting of seeds[i] has made the thousands-year-old practice of seed saving illegal, as is the sharing of seeds from farmer to farmer. The most notorious case is that of Canadian farmer Percy Schmeiser, whose canola crops were contaminated with Roundup Ready canola pollen blown into his fields from neighboring corporate farms. When Monsanto trespassed onto his fields, took samples, and found Roundup Ready canola plants mixed in with Schmeiser’s own canola plants, they sued him for violation of patents. Ultimately, the Canadian Supreme Court ruled in favor of Monsanto, but also ruled that Schmeiser owed Monsanto nothing.
In my own city, seed sharing became an issue when in 2013 our local library decided to start a seed library. The project was begun with great hopes that patrons could check out seeds for their home gardens, with the understanding that they would save a portion of their seeds and return these to the library for next year’s use. [ii] Project leaders hoped this would preserve locally adapted seed varieties. Unfortunately, after the seed library came to the public’s attention, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture informed the library that they were in violation of a Minnesota statute that prohibited the exchange of non-commercial seeds. [iii] Library Manager Carla Powers commented, “ . . . the law went so far as to make it illegal for gardeners to exchange a handful of seeds with one another.”[iv] But this did not end the library’s efforts. Several ally organizations[v] stepped up to create an amendment to the statute that exempted the exchange of non-commercial seeds from testing, labeling and licensing laws. This inspired a state-wide effort to change the law, which was successfully accomplished in that year’s legislative session.[vi]
Author’s Note: This piece was inspired by Janet Maika’i Rudolph’s wonderful FAR post of December 15th, 2022, “Ode to Seeds.”
“. . . I know, yes, there is renewal, /because this is what the seeds ask of us/ with their own songs/ when we listen to their small bundle of creation,/ of a future rising from the ground . . .” – Linda Hogan
The first seed catalogs started arriving in the mail even before the turn of the new year. In an annual ritual of hope, in the depths of winter we turn our thoughts and dreams to growing things – seeds of heirloom tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, carrots, and beans that will feed us and grace our tables in the summer and fall, and colorful marigolds, nasturtiums, and zinnias that will delight all summer long with their beauty. Is this the invincible summer of which Camus wrote?[i]
Julian of Norwich (while purportedly holding a seed in her hand) – 14th century
“Even if I knew that the world would end tomorrow,
I would plant an apple tree today.”
Have you ever had bedbugs or lice? If not, you’re lucky. If so, you understand just how hard they are to get rid of. Why is that? Because they are essentially seeds with legs.
Seeds need to be able to travel in order to be successful spreaders of life. For example, when an acorn falls from an oak tree, it probably can’t germinate right where it falls. The mama tree has already taken up all the earth/soil space as well as the water sources for its own roots. And the mama tree’s own leafy branches will block out access to the sun. So the innate goal of the seed is to move to find a more friendly space. Evolution has created all sorts of ways for seeds to use motion in the service of finding their own place to germinate. In the case of the acorn, there are squirrels. Because they are a food source, many of the acorns get taken to dens under the earth. Many of those are not eaten. Either they are forgotten or the squirrel in question meets another demise. An acorn that is nestled in a den under the earth, can have a potentially perfect environment to sprout far from its origins.
The forest is bursting with berries, blue lily beads are just one of a multitude of seeds…Astonishing pearl bells adorn mounds of shining wintergreen that shimmer across the forest floor. Soon those berries will blush, bead up, cry scarlet. Three leaved trillium wear peaked red caps. Deep orange bunchberry clusters surprise the unwary -who is expecting this bountiful feast on a woodland floor? Partridgeberry beads are lime green except for those from last year. Soon too these will be adorned in flaming berries that will last all winter… I’m waiting for the cucumber plants to show their colors. Lemon lime whirls catch the slightest breeze. Cattails, and milkweed pods are sending puffs of cotton on the wings of the slightest breeze. Bull frogs call from the rushes; fish intent on the next meal, break the surface of the beaver pond creating a ripple that spreads across the still waters circles upon circles widening into blue glass. Blue headed vireos, red eyed vireos and the hermit thrush sing from green bowers hidden from sight. Hemlock cones have dropped their black microscopic eyes under each parent carrying the knowledge that kin will look after their own. Acorns are dropping a bit too early; their caps still green, but some creature will have a feast, or the microbes will devour these seeds enriching the soil for next year’s sprouting.
Seeding up…. Thousands of years ago women began gathering forest bounty – always asking for permission they took only what they needed. That the forest will return the favor is a given – gratitude the exchange – Seed Saving is an ancient practice that women originally learned from dreams, animals, and the trees that were their neighbors. At that time all were kin….
This year I collect hemlock seeds, the beaked hazelnuts that edge the forest are ripening – almost ready to split…I rattle wild columbine spires releasing the seeds, collect salmon rose hips for a nourishing tea… scatter wild poppy seeds. I am still waiting for elderberry to grace the ditches with deep purple berries. The birds and I keep an eye on ripening clusters and share the bounty between us.
My cultivated garden takes care of itself these days…. Planting vegetables gives me no pleasure – too many years of work, giving to others – too much work that restricted my freedom to come and go. The forest floor is medicine now. Appreciation of every gift grieved or given never goes unnoticed…but it is the joy of watching each plant offer its prayer for the future that keeps me returning … home.
Last month I wrote about the Garden of Eden. You can read it here:
In that post, I described how Eden is essentially a garden of treasures. What are those treasures? I believe that they are seeds, the most prolific and creative element for spreading life here on Earth. Below is my own fantastical story about the Garden and how the seeds came to reside there.
Sinuous and serpentine, Hawwah, Hayyat, Eve emerged from Apsû, carrying within her seeds, fertilized eggs, and all the fruitfulness and abundance therein.
The serpent in the Bible is treated as Eve’s partner in crime, a malevolent seducer who is responsible for humankind’s expulsion from paradise. But did you know there are serpents who figure positively in the Bible? There are serpent priests, a feathered serpent and a healing serpent. Check out this passage:
Be ye therefore wise as serpents
Levites were serpent priests as evidenced by the etymology of their name. The root word levi is seen in the name of the creature “leviathan,” the giant serpent. This is reminiscent of the Pythia, the oracle from Delphi whose title is derived from the root word python.
The feathered serpent referenced in Isaiah 30:6 is a seraph, usually translated as a “fiery flying serpent.”