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Dead Sprouts

March 3, 2011

I killed them.

It was an accident, so I have no guilt on my conscious, but repercussions disregard intentions.

Gardening season starts in January, but I didn’t really get to it until almost February. They say some like it hot, tomatos are those, but I live north of Chicago. It’s not really hot enough, long enough, for tomatos here. Which is why everyone around here buys small tomato plants from farmers markets and hardware stores instead of planting seeds in the ground.

I don’t like hardware-store-tomatos, though. I like heirloom, organic tomatos. So every January, sometimes February, I pull out my envelope of seeds that I kept from the year prior and set up the germination station.

It’s not rocket science. It’s about a dozen tomato seeds nestled in a wet paper towel, and all of it tucked into a plastic sandwich bag and left on the counter. It’s the world’s smallest greenhouse in my kitchen, which is pretty cool if you really think about it.

I’m impatient by nature – if you’ve ever met my father you know I come by it honestly – so I check the little guys every couple of days. I hold the bag up to the light and look for little roots sticking out of the tiny, dark paper-towel-pimples. It always takes longer than I hope.

But it also always happens. And because my tomatos grow up every summer without chemicals, they produce good seeds, so I usually – eventually – end up with about a dozen tomato embryos.

It finally happened a couple weeks ago, and just last week I noticed they were starting to produce their first small leaves which, in plant-speak, means, “Get me the heck out of this paper towel.” I pulled the wet mass out of the bag and unfolded it to have a good look at my little garden and then … I got distracted.

I don’t know by what or whom or how it happened, but I walked away and left the paper towel wide open on the counter. Hours later I came back and found them all dry.

Of course I tried to gently fold them up again, soak the towel and tuck them bag in their greenhouse, but it didn’t work. This morning I started over. New seeds. New towel. New bag.

Because they’re just seeds, after all. It doesn’t matter what kind of good tomatos they come from, or how well they’re kept during the winter, or how tenderly they’re wrapped and nurtured and kept warm if they are, then, left defenseless and exposed too soon. Seeds need to be kept one way, sprouts another, and plants another still. Transitions are delicate times.

I’ll leave the metaphor to you.

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