Want to start at the beginning? Good call.
“A seed hidden in the heart of an apple is an orchard invisible.” – Welsh proverb
The story – our story – begins and ends with a seed. Planted long ago in the then-fertile soil of the Near East, it contained a new idea. Hitched to these miniscule things, the story went, we will build a different future. While before seeds dwelled on the periphery of our lives, now we will build our settlements around them. Our future will have permanence and grandeur, bread and barley beer – we will put down roots and thrive in place; we will raise up granaries and monuments to our gods and give thanks for the blessing of a seed; our children will disperse through the land and create their own prosperity. We will become seeds and, by doing so, we will share in their power.
As stories go, it was a powerful one. But, as the stories of the powerful so often do, it left out all the details and skirted over the realities of a sedentary lifestyle. When people settled down into agricultural life, their nutrition declined; inequality increased, the religious monuments built on the backs of an underclass; and these first agriculturalists of the Near East so abused their land that it utterly collapsed and has never recovered.
The seed’s own cycles of creation, growth, dispersal, decay are echoed throughout human history. One group of seed-people emerges and grows strong, spreading widely over the land, only to collapse and leave room for the next. Is societal failure inevitable, then, just a misnomer for
decay, one part of a cycle that continues forever onward? Can we see ourselves as the equivalent of annual plants on a different scale, dying away regularly only to slightly rearrange the information of our predecessors and start again? If this were so, shouldn’t we have learned something of ourselves and our environment by now? Perhaps we have. Perhaps we haven’t. Seeds are the story, but we never have grasped the whole story.
The paradox of seeds – both resilient and fragile, reliable and fickle, lasting and ephemeral, they embody the complexity necessary to exist in and understand this world. From the founding of our culture, we have expected too much and understood too little of them. Of human existence, seeds speak volumes – both of our past, and our potential futures.
As for pasts – to me, every backward-looking what if question is gratuitous. Those with the most to gain from rewriting the past usually have the least time to consider what could have been, struggling just to deal with what is. That being said, I have my own what if, though I know it is unanswerable: what if seeds as we know them had never developed? Would anyone be here at all?
The more interesting what ifs, the ones worth more of our time and energy, are the forward-looking ones. The future is wide open, limited only by the gaps in our imagining. From the rooftops of the Welsh coast to the Norwegian arctic expanse, from the Near East to archaic Greece to Walden Pond, from the first settlers to discover Hawai’i to their descendants striving to enliven their culture, humans are, and always have been, trying to shape the future in their own terms. Some are explicit about it; some less so.
After millions of years together, the past few thousand in close quarters, we are irretrievably dependent on the awesome design of seeds. This is not a bad thing, necessarily – they are graceful, unique, and engaged, qualities worth striving for in our own lives. The lessons they can teach us – to contemplate before taking action; to break free of the soil and change the world when conditions demand it; to know and hold sacred the things that sustain us, protecting them from harmful manipulation; to work in tandem with the environment and all it contains – these lessons are equally important. We haven’t learned them yet, but it’s only been some ten thousand years. The wisdom of a seed works on its own timescale. Our futures unfold together.
This is the conclusion of A Creation Story, but there will be much more in this vein, published regularly in this space. If you’d be willing, I’d love to hear what you thought about this, or where it helped your thoughts to wander.