“In this earth,
In this soil,
In this pure field
Let’s not plant
Other than seeds of compassion
While it’s nerdy to admit this, my husband and I love shows about nature, with PBS’s Nature among one of favorites. Go ahead, make fun of us, or roll your eyes. We teach middle schooler students; we can take it!
Recently, an episode of Nature featured animals who survive on the highest and most extreme terrain of the Alps. While you may continue to giggle and guffaw at our choice of entertainment, this episode fed our minds with its breathtaking cinematography of an extraordinary landscape and the unique variety of animals adapted to the Alpine mountain climate, including the chamois, ibex, marmot, golden eagle, and the spotted nutcracker. It was while the narrator and filming focused on the nutcracker scene that, shall I say, planted a seed.
In the Alpine world, the Swiss stone pine exists, thanks in large part to the work of the spotted nutcracker. The nutcracker relies on the seeds of the Swiss stone pine for food. Even though this tree only produces seeds between the months of August and October, this bird is able to survive year ‘round in the harsh conditions of the Alpine climate because of its ability to stockpile these seeds in a wide variety of locations and remember their hiding spots. The birds’ naturally seem to select places that prevent their collection from being stolen by scavengers. Interestingly, these carefully selected locations are also less likely to support seed germination–at least for a several months. Thus, these hidden seed-pantries enable the spotted nutcracker to eat year ‘round, including feeding its young in the spring.
Fortunately, for the Swiss stone pine, it can live for as many as 500 years–which works in the favor for both the tree and spotted nutcracker. In fact, even if only one to two seeds per year from the nutcracker’s hidden caches remain uneaten, and therefore germinate, it is enough to keep the tree viable for hundreds of years. Thus, making this symbiotic relationship an ideal partnership for the continuation of both species.
“Keep on sowing your seed, for you never know which will grow—perhaps it all will.”–Ecclesiastes 11:6 TLB
One seed. Hidden, dropped, or lost–dormantly remains idle until the conditions change.
One seed. Full of potential–enough energy to fuel the growth of a new seedling.
One seed. Serendipity–precise temperature, water, oxygen, light.
One seed. Free to break through its hardened shell and begin growing.
From one seed of the Swiss stone pine, a root first forms, followed by a shoot that will grow into its stems, branches, and needles. Over the years, as the seedling extends into maturity, the tree will endure countless challenges throughout the entirety of its life. From strong winds to Alpine avalanches, from temperatures well below freezing (think -30 to -40 degrees) to extremely warm temperatures, from blizzard conditions to summer storms, and all conditions in between, this tree finds a way to persevere for hundreds of years.
However, the Swiss stone pine does not survive all those hundreds of years without breakage. In fact, the trunk of this tree is so brittle that its top may be repeatedly broken off in harsh conditions. Despite its brokenness, it continues to grow and produce seeds that are editable–not only for the nutcracker, but also for other birds, animals, and even human consumption.
Often referred to as the “Queen of the Alps,” the Swiss stone pine survives its brokenness and storms by forming lateral shoots that often resprout in response to the weather conditions. Furthermore, the nutcracker typically only consumes about 80% of the Swiss stone pine seeds it hoards. Therefore, thanks in large part to the work of the nutcracker, groups of seeds often germinate together in one spot, and the numerous trees sprout together. What often appears as one tree with multiple trunks are actually several trees growing together in one root system. Additionally, even if the nutcracker–or for that matter, other creatures– would happen to eat all of the trees’ seeds for several seasons in a row, the Swiss stone pine’s seed cycle includes a mast season, every four or five years, producing so great a quantity of seeds that it would be impossible for all of its seeds to be consumed. Thus, ensuring the tree’s survival, but also the survival of any Alpine creature who may rely on this tree for shelter or food, such as the spotted nutcracker.
One seed. One tree. One bird. Watch the ripples expand.
“We can’t change people, but we may plant seeds that may one day bloom in them.”–Mary Davis
Reflecting upon this unique symbiotic relationship, I was reminded of our own human to human interactions. From day to day, month to month, and from year to year, imagine the seeds each human being can potentially plant. Many of these seeds foster our own well being and the well being of others as we cultivate friendships and relationships for the mutual benefit of all involved. These relationships eventually sprout into new families and new friend groups.
Furthermore, seeds planted with coworkers, neighbors, professionals with whom we regularly interact, as well as complete strangers, can germinate ideas, thoughts, and other notions that, one day, may benefit that person. From the compassionate gesture of helping a complete stranger to private gestures of kindness unseen or unheard by those benefiting, from one tender word of encouragement to one empathetic ear ready to listen, we all have the ability to sow seeds wherever we go.
Even when we are broken by the squalls, obstacles, and difficulties of life, through the rooted and interconnected relationships of our germinated seeds, we can find the strength to rise again. In conditions ranging from the most arid to emotionally drowning episodes, from the frozen heart to impassioned flare of tempers, it is our propagation of seeds that comes back to us again and again, making us more resilient, more strong, and ultimately able to persevere, allowing us to continue to produce even more seeds
One positive word. One helpful deed. One encouraging smile. Seeds are planted. Perhaps, they remain dormant in the recipient’s being for days, weeks, months, even years. Nonetheless, one moment, under the right circumstance, that seed will take root, sprout, and soon enough branches and roots systems, like Swiss stone pine trees, will expand over the mountains of time. You may not see it, but your one choice, your one act, repeated throughout your life, may create a forest from which many will be nourished and find shelter.
“Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.”–Robert Louis Stevenson