The Imperceptible Nature of Growth

I garden. I grow most things from seed, which gives me autonomy over the source and quality of the plants. It further allows me the benefit that hybrids do not allow: the ability to save seed and grow into the future plants of the same kind, without sterile, odd, or mutated results. Some people think growing from seed makes you a more elite type of gardener. It never ceases to amaze me how people will make a clique or division out of anything. But, that’s another story. Frankly, I like growing from seed for the sake of economy: I can grow dozens, even hundreds of plants for the price of one adolescent seedling from a garden shop. In addition, I never tire of the miracle of placing a seed into soil and watching it sprout into green leaves, a tiny stem, and, incredibly, food or flowers. It seems like an impossibility unfolding before me. It delights and stirs me. I’m sure my neighbors have wondered why I sit and stare at what appears to be bare dirt in the first few weeks of the gardening season. I am marveling (gloating, really) over my seedlings and willing them to grow before my eyes.

There are a couple downsides, if they can be called that, of growing from seed: the wait and the work, based on the seed types’ specific germination requirements. For many seeds, light, warmth, and moisture are necessary to stimulate germination. For others, a period of dormancy, or cold stratification, is required. There are seeds that germinate best in darkness. Some seeds need only a day or two before they burst open and begin greeting the world. Others take weeks, maybe even months before they meander into the land of the living. I’m partial to the first. Some seeds can be tossed on concrete and they don’t pay the lack of soil any mind; they start sprouting, as if they are searching for a way to live, determined to beat the odds. Others have to be coaxed and cajoled, bribed with attention and concern, before they begrudgingly reward you with a few measly sprouts. Again, I favor the first.

There is a sense of accumulating discouragement, defeat even, when seeds don’t sprout quickly, or within the average germination period. Things are happening, but on an imperceptible level. All the necessary precursors to that plant tossing soil off its crown and thriving up to the sky are being met, but they aren’t apparent. All the care and attention put into keeping those seeds from drying out, appropriately shaded/lit, mulched or bare, and protected from fascinated squirrels, inconsiderate insects, and self-absorbed birds, are making a difference. But it doesn’t seem like any of it is worth a darn during the wait. It can actually feel like a waste of time. In a finite growing season, time is something you don’t want to waste, especially if your future food source is dependent upon its maximum use.

You sow. Then you wait.

In gardening, I sense constant parallels to life. It’s one of the 37,000 or so reasons I love it. In this case, I am reminded of the slow, sometimes interminable wait to see growth in myself, as I keep trudging forward. I want to see bold, undeniable, waving-in-your-face evidence that leads to immediate tomatoes, I mean, life change.

But real change, the long-lasting differences that lead to more transformations that result in our becoming completely renewed creatures compared to 2 months, 4 years, and a decade ago: that takes time. Change is borne out of a million different interactions, thought pattern adjustments, minute transformations, moments of healing, challenges, encouragements, affirmations, and simply acts of love and acceptance. It is found in a word, or phrase, a strong wind against our face, a walk, a question, and yes, even watching a seed sprout. Growth is a cumulative process. One morning you are staring at a seedling that seems to move skyward at a snail’s pace. The next day there are blushing tomatoes the size of your fist daring you to come close and admire them.

So, my lesson in gardening, as it applies to the continual, varied, and sometimes unpredictable nature of personal growth, is: Trust in the story. Even if the story is, in many moments, just a feeling, not a clearly defined step-by-step, control-based process, but more an open hope tossed out onto the wind, a winding, messy thing. Your sowing is making a difference. Your slow movements are building upon each other. The consideration of a world and perspective bigger and broader than your own is, in and of itself, a victory. How much more so all the miniscule and substantial leanings toward a truer you and a full future?

There are prerequisites to tomatoes, and they’re found in the hours of sunlight, the growing warmth of the soil, the shooing away of pests, the deep watering, and even the light sprinkling of rain; all the bits and pieces that feed a treasure bound to produce exponentially more than you imagined a tiny seed ever could.

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