Inside every seed awaits a story. I’m currently holding two different seeds: one for my vegetable garden, the other for my next book. I know from over 40 years of gardening how my tomato seeds will grow, but my next book? I’ve only the seed of an idea. Who knows if or how it will grow.
First – the garden seed, because this one always makes me happy.
Like a child who begs to be read the same story over and over, I get excited every spring when I pull out my seed boxes and start the planting cycle. I start with a packet of tomato seeds – one tiny disc floats onto my open palm – saved from last year’s tomatoes to start this year’s crop. It’s both the ending and beginning of life. Within this little seed is the story of my 2022 garden.
Growing season has been coming earlier and hotter – one consequence of climate change. This year I decide to push my luck and start two early-ripening tomatoes three weeks earlier than usual – a calculated risk that may pay off. I place the six pots on a warming pad in the sunroom and with great patience and faith, wait for the seeds to begin their magical transformation. About a week later, I notice a little bump of soil pushed up by an emerging seedling. From the bare stem, two leaves unfurl. I turn on the overhead grow lights and watch for the second set of leaves, then call my gardening friends in excitement.
I know how this story continues. As the plants grow, I’ll repot them in ever-larger containers. Eventually they’ll join the other seedlings in my outdoor nursery: pepper, eggplant, squash, cucumber, chard, kale, and a selection of other tomatoes. At this point, I’ll start exchanging extra plants with neighbors – we’re always eager to try something new.
In the Sierra, we traditionally don’t plant until Mother’s Day, but I’m having to change old patterns of gardening because the growing season is getting progressively hotter and unpredictable. Tension and plot twists may be important for good fiction, I can do without it in my garden story! Still, my gardening friend John and I agree that our gardens are our happy places, and with COVID, they’ve become our havens.
Like a book I’ve read many times, I can anticipate what will come of my seeds: celebrating the first tomato (and saving its seeds); sliced tomatoes sprinkled with basil leaves, balsamic vinegar, and olive oil; thick tomato sauce for spaghetti and pizzas; and weekly gatherings of family and neighbors to share the bounty. In late summer I’ll shift into canning tomato sauce, catsup, and whole tomatoes, or dehydrating thin discs of tomatoes to thicken up winter stews. I try to remember to save the seeds of my earliest and most flavorful tomatoes to cultivate those characteristics for future seasons.
When frost threatens, I pick all the viable tomatoes and store them in newspaper on the back porch. Although at least half don’t make it, the ones we enjoy over the winter are a reminder of next year’s story.
Both gardening and writing require a time of quiet renewal and regeneration. I don’t plunge right into my next garden when the summer vegetables are over. Same with writing. There’s a reason winter is dark and fallow – it allows time for contemplation and integration.
I published Heart Wood two years ago. “What’s next?” people ask me. Until recently, I was at a loss for how to answer. Then I discovered a box of love letters from 1968 between my boyfriend in Vietnam and myself in San Francisco. Now we’re married, and fifty-four years later, we’re reading them back to each other. It feels like the seed of something – perhaps memoir, fiction, or simply transcribed as part of our family’s story for posterity.
But recently a friend handed me the seed of an idea for another book. I must admit, I felt a leap of excitement – a good sign that there’s life in this seed. I’ll share more when I see what grows!
Heart Wood can be purchased at your local bookstore and on Amazon (ebook and paperback)