Thanks to David for Lab Girl:
Spring speaks of new beginnings, and what symbol of new beginnings is more laden with meaning than the humble seed? But it is not so humble. I will spare you the scientific definition of a seed as it is multi-layered and to my right-brained self, a little bit too complicated. But the seed itself, according to the author of Lab Girl, Hope Jahren, is patient and brave and holds hope for the future in its tiny (and sometimes not so tiny) self.
Her ode to the seed seems to be in direct contrast to the instructions you receive on those little packs of radish seeds or carrot seeds, in that many do not have an expiry date. She says that some live for thousands of years before deciding that it is time to flourish. Within each seed there seems to be a time capsule awaiting launch. Here are some of Jahren’s observations, which I found totally fascinating. She says:
“A seed knows how to wait. Most seeds wait for at least a year before starting to grow; a cherry seed can wait for a hundred years with no problem. What exactly each seed is waiting for is known only to that seed. Some unique trigger-combination of temperature-moisture-light and many other things are required to convince a seed to jump off the deep end and take its chance— to take its one and only chance to grow.”
I love the idea that a seed needs to be convinced “to jump off the deep end and takes it chance”. Are we not a lot like that seed? One day we are merrily going about our routine everyday business, then without seeming rhyme or reason we are off on a new adventure and we are going in a new direction. I have often wondered what it is that finally precipitates change. Are we governed by “some unique trigger-combination of temperature-moisture-light” that “makes us jump off the deep end” to change? Or is it the “many other things” that Jahren does not define that encourages us to leave one aspect of life behind in order to choose another?
She tells us that “A seed is alive while it waits. Every acorn on the ground is just as alive as the three-hundred-year-old oak tree that towers over it. Neither the seed nor the old oak is growing; they are both just waiting. Their waiting differs, however, in that the seed is waiting to flourish while the tree is only waiting to die.” If we are bluntly truthful, I guess we are all like the old oak waiting to die, but in the meantime we bud, blossom, and bloom, not in a vacuum, but in a vast world of pain and joy, anger and laughter, hurt and comfort.
I love the contrast in the size of seeds. Did you know that a coconut “is a seed that is as big as your head” that can float “from the coast of Africa across the entire Atlantic Ocean and take root on a Caribbean Island”? But, an orchid seed is so tiny, that “one million of them put together add up to the weight of a single paper clip”. Sometimes I feel as big as a coconut seed; sometimes as small as an orchid. But it is not the size that matters; it is the final outcome. And they both flourish differently—one providing sustenance; the other beauty.
I do not know why the Lab Girl’s observations about seeds hit me so profoundly today. Perhaps it is the medication I am using to keep my knee pain at bay (I am only on Tylenol 1 so that can’t be it unless the dregs of the other heavy duty meds are still in my system-lol).
She says that sometimes when scientists are in their labs they “simply scratch the hard coat and add a little water and it’s enough to make almost any seed grow.” Minds much more brilliant than mine could equate this with scratching the surface of the hard coating many of us have cocooned ourselves in. Adding something like love and care and respect can make us burst forth and do cartwheels, or at least smile a little and accept life as the weird and wonderful, awful and great thing it is.
According to Jahren, “under the right conditions, you can finally stretch out into what you’re supposed to be.” She tells the story of a lotus seed which had been waiting in the peat bog in China for two thousand years. Finally coddled into growth, she noted that “this tiny seed had stubbornly kept up the hope of its own future”. I guess that is where we are at: stubbornly keeping up the hope of our own future.