Each year I plant seedlings.
I receive them in bright shiny envelopes printed with colorful images of abundant harvests, airbrushed and unreal.
The perfect tomato. A bushel of turnips with dark leafy greens. The shiniest cucumbers. The most luscious strawberries.
The tallest sunflowers.
The seed carrying its imprint, a centuries old heritage, an ancient genetic history that I know little of. Could these be the descendants of Friar Mendel’s sweat peas?
It begins even before they arrive, preparing the potting soil and disinfecting the little hot house, assembling their nursery.
I start in the dark of winter. I plant the seeds. There is snow on the ground. We will enter into a dance of trial and error. I will try to gauge their need for dark and damp, moving them into the sunshine in time. I monitor their growth, how cold, how warm. Shifting things about and moving them around the house – from closet to windowsill, closer or further from the radiator depending on their need for heat, sun, water, cover, damp, open air.
I make mistakes. I let them sit dry too long. Or I overwater. I keep them covered beyond their time, too warm, too moist.
I plant two or three seeds per hole, and multiple small sprouts, delicate green fraternal twins, grow from the same spot. I’ve know you are supposed to pinch one off – choose the strongest and divert the soil’s nurturance toward the one most likely to produce a harvest.
I never do this. I don’t want to be the one to choose.
It is nature’s prerogative, let her decide for herself.
Maybe I lose some plantings this way. But no matter how many I plant – some will grow and some will not.
And I talk to a friend, another mother, who lives in the same space that I do: The past unchangeable. The future unknowable. I tell her I am starting my garden and that I try not to think about what I will get to harvest or not.
And she says: “Even better. Just plant the seeds. Just that. Just plant the seeds.”
And the sprouts grow and the days get longer and the sun comes closer. I wait. Until the seedlings are strong enough to be viable. To sink down into the ground and stand through storms and wind.
To be exposed to predators and parasites.
I wait until their stems are strong enough, until the leaves are broad enough, until their roots deep enough to gather their own resources. (I’ll still water when its needed, and sprinkle chicken poo and compost around now and then)
I’ll determine that now is the time. That this is the moment that the growing season dictates. Time to survive the elements and move out into the agricultural wild.
To grow in rows.
To bear fruit, create seeds.
To feed other living things.
Or to return their energies to the earth if they do not thrive.
And on a cool spring evening while my husband cooks dinner I will carry them all out into the crisp damp air out to the smell of mud and pollen. To face the risks of freeze and flood. I will leave the seedling tray outside on the earth knowing I will transfer them later, soon, maybe just a few more days.
But not quite yet.
(Possibly too soon, or too late.)
To live an unprotected life.
I leave them out in the last light of the sunset in the garden. And I head back to the house.
And I will know what happens next only when it happens.
Just planting seeds.