The Seed of an Idea

We all know about seeds. They are a metaphor for our existence. You put them in the ground, water them a little, and they sprout into flowers, trees, vegetables, weeds. Ah, that life was so simple.

If you are a gardener, you know that soaking certain seeds prior to planting can make them sprout faster and more reliably. The hard coating that protects the life inside softens and splits as moisture causes the cells to swell and start the exponential splitting that is the definition of life. But some plants, like humans, live in less than ideal circumstances, and they, like humans, have learned to adapt.

Take manzanita, that stunning California chaparral native with its lovely white bell-shaped flowers that give rise to leathery berries. The rains can come and go without so much as a sign of life from the seed inside until a deer or passing bird eats it. The coating protecting the life inside is dissolved by the acid of digestion. Nourishment is the animal’s reward, but the seed passes on, ready to sprout in the next rainy season to adorn a California hillside.

The Southwest’s stately saguaros, spaced out in sweeping desert vistas at intervals ordained by rainfall, grow at a pace that would try the most patient gardener. No easy task to get one of these beauties, so dependent on infinitesimal amounts of rainfall, to sprout. No sense wasting the precious seeds on hot, dry conditions doomed to cause failure. Birds eat the fleshy seed-laden fruit. The seeds are dropped close to plants on which the birds alight. Shade for many summers is needed to nurse these towering pillars until they are large enough to survive in the relentless sun.

The billowy smoke tree and the picturesque palo verde that festoon desert washes need a true desert gully-washer in order for the living embryo inside their iron-clad seeds to stir. The seeds, carried along by turbulent water are nicked and scarred by sand and rock, to open them to the life-giving effects of the rain. As the water rapidly disappears into the loose desert scree, they come to rest in low-lying spots that hold water the longest. Then, and only then, is there enough moisture for them to sprout and become the next generation of desert sentinels so amazingly adapted to life in the searing heat.

The seeds of mountain pines and maples must be moist and cool for several months to arouse the life inside, and the seeds of the giant Sequoia need fire. No amount of tumbling through a warm desert wash would stir them to awaken to an early death in inhospitable territory. Only a chilly promise of long cool winters or a piercing tongue of flame will lure them to life.

And so it is. All life manages, sometimes flourishing, sometimes struggling. But under the harshest conditions, blossoms occur. And with each comes a seed and a chance, just a chance, of new life.

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