une semence (seuh mahnce)
En agriculture, une semence est une graine sélectionnée pour être semée. In agriculture, a seed is a grain selected for sowing. --Wikipedia
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A Day in a French Life... by Kristin Espinasse
The Significant Matter of Seeds
(or, for a more soulful title, how about "Inner Growth" or, simply, "Seed Junky"?)
I recognize it as a little bit obsessive, the manner in which I've been stalking our flowers... especially the Belles de Nuit, or Beauties of the Night. I can't seem to leave them alone! It isn't that their yellow or fuchsia blossoms and their long confetti-tipped tongues have a hold on me... No. My infatuation, these days, centers on those inky, grenade-shaped seeds!
But the Belles de Nuit aren't the only graines that stir up these feelings. Have you seen what the hollyhocks put out? Or the coquelicots or the morning glory? Whether flat as a disk (indeed, some seeds resemble mini-CDs!) or tiny as a grain of sand--their forms are as fascinating as the flowers that come of them.
And have your ears ever experienced a seed jamboree? The larkspur are quite the melody-makers! Encased as they are in fluted coques all it takes is bumping into a dry branch-gone-to-seed to set the tiny "tambourines" drumming. I love to stand in the garden, shaking a stem of dried delphinium husks. Inside, the tiny black seeds ricochet off the dry walls and, now more than tambourines, I wonder whether it is cymbals I'm hearing?... the effect is jazz, blues, soul-stirring...
Of all the pleasures of seeds, freeing them is the most thrilling. Pinch certain pods and they'll burst! Drop a dried, boomerang-shaped husk of a California poppy (the shell so different from that of the Provençal variety).. drop it into a sack and it will explode on contact! Others (read Amaranthus) come out of their furry hideouts only after a good thwacking against a stone murette. The powdery black seeds are tiny as spider teeth!
Not all seeds are visible to the eye and with certain flowers you wonder where their offspring are hidden. The little yellow faces framed by white petals of the feverfew are perplexing and the idea of a seedless flower is distressing... Unsure of how to proceed, I collect the dried blossoms and trust that, once in the paper bag, they'll break down in time to release some sort of powder-fine progeny.
On the subject of storing seeds, I do it haphazardly, saving up paper sacks or stealing envelopes from my husband's home office... I enjoy marking the packages "Mixed flowers" or "artichokes" or "sunflowers" or "rose trémière: noir!"... before storing them in the kitchen armoire, where they vie for shelf space with the pastis and the pasta. I'll eventually move the sacks, emptying the dried contents into great glass jars (that's the plan, anyway)... For now I enjoy the close proximity of the seeds, which literally put the "campagne" in our country kitchen.
If I'm feeling reckless, I might forgo the drying and the classifying of the seeds -- in favor of scattering them willy-nilly. Chances are they'll be eaten by granivores... Risking this, I'll toss a handful of just-picked hollyhock seeds next to the clothesline, or spray poppy seeds over near the beehive mailbox, or send off a jet-stream of delphinium seeds in front of the telephone pole... in my active mind's eye I see Jack's Beanstalk rising and I am filled with awe... at the potential of a tiny inert speck of organic matter!
Yes! Of all the reasons to marvel before a humble seed, the thing that most inspires me... is a seed's sacred mystery. I am reminded of a favorite passage in The Door of Everything:
Let us return to the tomato seed and look at it more closely. Is it strictly a seed, a little collection of molecules that cling together in a certain way to form a certain kind of matter? If you had never seen a tomato seed, and had never heard of a tomato, the seed probably would appear to be no more than an insignificant bit of matter capable only of a short, unproductive existence followed by decay.
However, if someone told you about the tomato seed, explaining that within those apparently inactive molecules a divine pattern was held in waiting, eager to come forth, a pattern for a fragrant, leafy plant which would flower and bear delicious fruit, you would find it hard to believe. Knowing nothing at all about the reality of tomatoes, you probably could not visualize such an impossible thing as a big green plant with red fruit growing out of an uninteresting-looking seed. You would, no doubt, laugh uproariously at the quaint idea that all you had to do was bury it under the dirt, then keep it watered, and the forces of nature would co-operate with it to bring about its amazing change of form.
This post is dedicated to Malou and Doreen. Read the story "Altruism in the Garden" about the Dirt Divas backbreaking efforts to raise a flower bed from the concrete ashes of our garden. The fruits, or seeds, of their labor are, truly, an eternal gift.
Re the "tomato seed" passage above, it is from a book that my mom gave me. "I was a little hesitant to share it with you," Mom admitted, "it's a little new-agey...". I'm so glad Jules took the risk and shared The Door of Everything with me! Click here to order the book.
(under construction. Check back soon for the translated terms, or offer your own in the comments box.)
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A Message from Kristi on this blog's 19th anniversary
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