By Rev. Anna Blaedel
Almost every morning, in this particular season of life, I start the day by walking outside, and checking on the garden. It’s a very small garden, in the one small corner of space where there’s sufficient sun, yet still it is brimming with life. I make a little loop. I run my fingers along the frilled edges of kale, the soft shine of chard. Good morning, parsley. Good morning, broccoli. So glad to see you, blossoms of jalapeños and habañeros and carolina reapers, to come. The lettuce is tired, resting, turned bitter by the heat. The tomatoes aren’t yet ripe, but the plants reach into the air over my head, and one variety is deepening into a gorgeous blueblackpurple, and another is starting to show a faint blush of red. The rhubarb survived the transplant from my parents’ house when they moved, and this was going to be the summer I made my mama her own pie, from the recipe she passed down to me from her mama, but this summer isn’t what or how any of us expected, and so I made the pie for my beloved, and we savored it, and the sweetnesses and sorrows baked in. I rub basil between my hands, put my hands to my face, and breathe deep. Pluck a few mint leaves, and chew. Rub rosemary and thyme together. Inhale their cleansing, healing potency. My beloved exclaims how the eggplants seem to grow overnight, and isn’t that what all of us might do, grow, because and in spite of it all, enveloped in rhythms of sacred darkness, and holy light. Reaching deep, rising up. I thank the one cilantro plant, transforming now into coriander, for its wildness, and knowing its own need: after two years of trying to grow cilantro with little luck, a seed moved without me from the patio pot to the yard a few feet away, and grew where it wanted.
There is so much I have yet to learn about how to tend the soil, the seedlings, the plants. How to prune, when to pluck, where to water, when to leave be.
There is so much we have yet to learn about how to tend life, about liberation, about survival, about joy.
When my hands are in the soil, I feel Nayyirah Waheed’s words of poetry about “love that is nutrient-dense.” I hear Ashon Crawley whispering, reminding, “Bloom.”
“For a seed to achieve its greatest expression,” writes Cynthia Occelli, “it must come completely undone. The shell cracks, it’s insides come out and everything changes. To someone who doesn’t understand growth, it would look like complete destruction.”
Some plants–lodgepole pine, and Eucalyptus, and Banksia–have serotinous cones, completely sealed with resin. They can only open, and release their seeds, after the heat of a massive fire has melted the resin. Destruction, and growth.
A germ is an organism that causes disease. It is also a part of the body capable of building new tissue, new life. That which threatens health, and that which heals. The root of the word germ is seed. Destruction, and growth.
Even small seedlings have the power to grow through concrete. The seeds don’t actually have the power to crack the concrete, but they use the energy from their roots to seek out and find existing microscopic cracks. New growth occurs at the tips of plant roots. These tips act as feelers, seeking out paths of possibility. Once they find a crack, they lean in. The small seedling’s soft and persistent power, surviving however and wherever it can, can eventually break a concrete slab into pieces. Destruction, and growth.
Robin Wall Kimmerer describes her relation to her gardening practice: “We should not only be raising our gardens, we should be raising a ruckus! A ruckus on behalf of all that the world needs, and all we have to offer as gardeners.” Living in reciprocity–mutual care, mutual aid–enacting a world where survival meets joy.
In “Braiding Seeds,” a recent episode of the most excellent podcast, “How To Survive The End of the World” (learning from the apocalypse with grace, rigor and curiosity) Autumn Brown interviewed Leah Penniman, “soil steward and food sovereignty activist,” and co-founder of Soul Fire Farm. Leah spoke of her ancestors braiding seeds into their hair, before they were violently taken from their homes and homeland, and enslaved. Particularly, they braided pelargonium seeds into their hair. Pelargonium is now used by Leah and others to heal the soil. Pelargonium plants participate in phytoremediation–plant remediation, plants fixing it–accumulating lead and other heavy metals into its leaves, detoxifying and cleansing the soil and enabling the growth of nourishing food. Not knowing where they were going, or if they would survive, these ancestors braided what they knew to be of value into the one place they felt able to carry, and keep safe. Protecting what was valuable, without knowing if or how a future could be; practicing a fundamental belief in the possibility of life, of healing.
“Somebody predicted there may be a need for those, which means that right now we have skills and tools and seeds that we don’t yet know what they are going to be needed for. There’s an invitation to pay attention to what we are already holding close to ourselves without necessarily knowing why, because there may be, many generations down the line, a need for that that we can’t yet see.”
What are you already holding close to you?
What is helping you survive?
What is connecting you with joy?
Save the seeds. Tend the soil.
Composting toxicity, viciousness, and destruction into the healing, transformative, nutrient-dense soil that can nourish, and sustain, our movements for liberation, for survival, for joy.
“Wonder, a garden among the flames!” writes Sufi poet Ibn ‘Arabi.