Wednesday, July 4, 2012

california poppies, collecting seeds

When you spend so much time alone, you tend to think.  This morning I'm thinking that the fourth of July has no meaning anymore.  I'm thinking that there needs to be a new fourth of July, one that celebrates our independence from the tyranny of trans-national corporations who have no actual loyalty to this country and yet who maintain enormous sway over its politics and the lives of the people who live complicitly in it.  I'm one of those people, and over the years, fourth after fourth after fourth, I've become much more comfortable with the fact that I am small, small but not powerless.  One man cannot change the world by saving a couple poppy seeds, but he can live closer to his principles if he does.  A couple lines from Walden should suffice: "Most of the stone a nation hammers goes toward its tomb only.  It buries itself alive.  As for the Pyramids, there is nothing to wonder at in them so much as the fact that so many men could be found degraded enough to spend their lives constructing a tomb for some ambitious booby, whom it would have been wiser and manlier to have drowned in the Nile, and then given his body up to the dogs."  Amen.  Now let's talk about California poppies.  This is what one seed pod looks like before it explodes.

This particular pod did not explode as forcefully as some of them do, so you will have to trust me when I tell you that the architecture of a California poppy seed pod is such that the pod, when ripe, explodes with a violent cleaving whose force is enough to eject the seeds.  Basically, the pod pops open and chucks its babes abroad.  Put another way, the green pod is a kind of loaded spring, like a rat trap whose trigger is not a rat but life itself.  When the plant starts to die back, the life force that held the pods closed weakens, and the stored potential energy inherent in the design of the pod is unleashed.  The seeds shoot everywhere, and this actually presents a problem for the seed collector.  It's best to let the pods open by their own action, rather than pry them open forcibly, but with this comes the inevitable consequence that the plant will shoot many of its seeds beyond your grasp, which is the plant's wont to do.  The solution is easy: you just put the unexploded pods in your grandmother's old pie plate, and you accept some inevitable losses.  

This is not the first time that I've written about seed dispersal methods.  Of the one-hundred-and-one things to think and write about plants, seed dispersal methods is among my favorites.  It fascinates me because it's so pregnant with metaphor.  In the past I've compared plant seed dispersal to human beings packing their kids off to college, which is to say that I've only thought about where a plant sends its offspring, not about the force with which it sends them.  Not all plants use force to disperse their offspring, or at least not all plants use such explosive force as the California poppy—some use wind, some use animals, some use obsessive humans like me.  Whatever the case may be, collecting seeds this morning I watched one explode by its own volition, and I could not help but think about an expecting human mother and the muscle she is equipped with to push out her baby.  That baby doesn't just slip out.  California poppy seeds do not slip out languidly either.  There is always some mechanism to birth a new thing, and sometimes force is involved.  Think about that when you watch the fireworks tonight.  What force pushed those sulphuric flowers into the air? 

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