“Look, Granny. Basil sprouting!” exclaimed my granddaughter as she took me to see the tiny seedlings on the table in her playroom. Earlier that day, we had wandered around my yard, hand in hand, looking for sprouting things. We marvelled at the tulips poking through the leaf mulch, the buds forming on the lilacs, and the hellebore lenten rose blooming on the sunny south side of the house. The hellebore is the first thing to bloom in my garden and I am always tickled when it blooms before Easter.
A few days later, my husband and I took our granddaughter to Seedy Saturday, a nationwide movement that promotes the cultivation and preservation of heirloom and endangered varieties of food crops. Our local event had a kids’ planting table, and before our granddaughter planted her seed in the Styrofoam cup that she had filled with soil, she cradled it gently in her tiny hand as if she were in the presence of something holy.
I have a healthy respect for seeds. Coming from an Italian background, I grew up with a vegetable garden in the backyard. It was a riot of plants that produced abundant crops, many of which my father planted from the seeds he saved annually. Tomato seeds germinated in little pots by the basement window; others we sowed directly into the ground. From seed to table, I grew up with crunchy carrots, juicy tomatoes, meaty roman beans, tender lettuce and bitter radicchio that tantalized (or tortured) my taste buds and nourished my body.
I used to wonder why my father kept seeds when it would have been so much simpler and tidier to buy them. But, keeping the seeds was a symbolic way for my father to stay connected with the land that his family had farmed for generations in the old country. My father’s method of gardening, including his insistence on planting according to the phases of the moon, kept us rooted with our past.
I shared some of this with Mohawk seed keeper Terrylynn Brant, who sees an intimate connection between the seed, ancestors and land, and who, like my father plants her crops based on the moon.
Brant grew up in a family that was able to maintain its agricultural practices despite government policies that threatened the traditional agricultural way of life of the communities of the Haudenosaunee. From an early age, she had a passion for gardening, which she believes is her gift from the Creator, and she has always been mindful of the importance of keeping the seeds of her ancestors, some of which, she told me, go back to time immemorial. For Brant, a seed is a sacred thing and a metaphor for the innate dignity and goodness of the individual.
“Seeds have their own inherent responsibility given to them by Creator. It’s basically to grow and to reproduce themselves. That’s the duty and responsibility they’ve been given . . . to continue who they are and what they are” and the seed will always do its best to honour the task creation had in mind for it.
Brant applies this concept to people. “The Creator sent us here as beautiful, perfect beings. He intended us to grow beautiful, to be compassionate with our fellow man, to share everything we have, to love one another. And yet, we are the ones who mess that up. . . . We should look at the seed, and we should be reminded every time we hold it in our hands what is pure, what is good, what is right, but we do not.”
There is a genius to a seed that we miss when we lose contact with the soil and the source of the food on our table. Sowing a seed, nurturing its growth, and plucking its fruit off the vine does more than feed our bodies; it nourishes our spirit. When we wonder at basil sprouting or feel our heart leap up at the blooming of the lenten rose after a dark winter, we touch the goodness inherent in our selves, and intuit the possibility for our own transformation and that of the world. The seed helps us get back to the garden where we glimpse the perfection and harmony for which we long.
Trail, B.C., resident Louise McEwan is a freelance writer, religion columnist and catechist. She has degrees in English and theology and is a former teacher. She blogs at www.faithcolouredglasses.blogspot.ca. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org