Trailing Nasturtiums :A Seed Saving Story

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I first fell in love with the fiery red and gold trailing nasturtiums that grew in my grandmother’s garden when I was a small child. I believe it was my mother who first put the flowers in salads making each summer meal a festive event.

 

Both my mother and grandmother were gardeners so I grew up with plants indoors and out. I participated gathering all kinds of ripe seeds and pods including wrinkled bright green nasturtium seeds that looked to me like tiny human brains that shrunk to half their size as they dried on screens in my grandmother’s attic. Later the seeds were stored in paper bags until spring.

 

The awe that I experienced touching any seed as a child is still with me. That each one carries its own story, its own DNA (protein) signature, and the form the seed will take, is a miracle worth reflecting upon.

 

The first flowers I ever planted were nasturtiums that came from my grandmother’s garden. I prepared little rock crevices that lay against a giant granite boulder on Monhegan Island, my first adult home in Maine. Located 16 miles out to sea, this tiny fishing village was flooded by tourists in the summer. When people walked up from the wharf passing by my house, they often casually plucked the flowers I cared for so tenderly. Putting up a sign made no difference and I was too young to feel tolerance for these interlopers, eventually moving my precious nasturtium patch to another garden behind the house!

 

Although I used the leaves in salads I had a hard time picking the flowers, preferring instead to enjoy the feast by sight.

 

As soon as my two boys were old enough, each summer they bit off the fragrant flames, even as a multitude of bees and hummingbirds vied for sweet nasturtium nectar. Sometimes, when childhood friends came over, my sons would pick and eat a nasturtium creating quite a stir. Other children were amazed. No one ate flowers!

 

My children are long ago grown and gone and I am still planting nasturtiums some fifty years later.

 

Last year, I planted the few seeds that I had brought with me from Maine, here in Abiquiu. I also ordered some from a familiar catalog that specializes in organic and heirloom seeds. I grew my own in a large pot, and planted the others directly into the ground on the east side of the house. The nasturtiums in the pot had yellowing leaves and yet the seeds from both were equally abundant.

 

However, the nasturtiums I planted in the ground held more moisture after watering, providing my house lizards with giant green leaves that both lizards and buds thrived under during the monstrous July heat. When the vines finally began to trail in early August the plants were festooned with a riot of color, much to my joy and delight. Nasturtiums were still blooming well into November.

 

To this day, I rarely break off and eat a newly blooming flower as sweet as they are to the taste, although I regularly use the pungent peppery leaves in salads.

 

Saving seeds from year to year was simply part of what I did without thinking about it until I began to write and celebrate my own rituals (almost 40 years ago now). After making that shift I incorporated nasturtium seed gathering as part of my fall equinox thanksgiving celebration. Every year I invoke both my mother and my grandmother in remembrance and gratitude for their legacy – a long and unbroken line of growing these flowers and saving their seeds. Someday, I hope to find someone who will carry on my nasturtium seed story after I am gone.

Both the leaves and petals of nasturtiums are packed with nutrition, containing high levels of vitamin C. Ingesting these plants provides immune system support, tackles sore throats, coughs, and colds, as well as bacterial and fungal infections.

Nasturtiums also contain high amounts of manganese, iron, flavonoids, and beta – carotene.

Studies have shown that the leaves have antibiotic properties; they are the most effective before flowering.

 

Nasturtiums are native to South America; they are not an imported species, perhaps lending credibility to the importance of sticking to native plants during this time of Earth’s most difficult transition. They are also known as a companion plant. For example, nasturtiums grow well with tomato plants. In addition, they act as a natural bug repellent so I always have small patches of them growing around my vegetable garden. Aphids are especially attracted to them leaving more vulnerable plants alone. Rabbits and other creatures aren’t tempted to eat their leaves or flowers because of their sharp flavor, yet these trailing vines attract many pollinators. Bees of all kinds and hummingbords love them. Although nasturtiums are frost sensitive, I note that even after germination the little green shoots with hats simply hug the ground if the weather turns inclement. Unless the temperature dips below the mid 20’s nasturtiums always bounce back. In fact even a hard frost won’t take all the adult plants at once because their vining habit protects some of the seeds and some flowers. I always end up pulling the vines and the very last flowers before all are withered (this is when I consume the flowers after picking a small bouquet for the house). For all the above reasons I think these tough and tender vining plants have a good chance of surviving in the face of Climate Change.

Postscript:  I am so pleased to announce that this little story along with many others is going to part of the SEEDBROADCAST exhibit focused on Climate Change and Seed Resilience at the Albuquerque Museum in New Mexico.

Seed: Climate Change Resilience

Coming to Albuquerque Museum June 2019. Inspired dialogue around global warming, local food, healthy communities, and the revitalization of bioregional indigenous agri-Cultural practices

Seed: Climate Change Resilience

Acoma

Acoma Ancestral Lands Program and Farm Corp. SeedBroadCast, 2016

This exhibition is presented by SeedBroadCast, a collaborative project exploring bioregional agri-Culture and seed action through collective inquiries and hands-on creative practices. SeedBroadCast holds the belief that it is a human right to save seeds and share their gifts, to grow food and share its abundance, and to cultivate grassroots wisdom and share its creativity. These are the roots of agri-Culture to be broadcast.

 

 

June 22 – September 22, 2019

SeedBroadCast presents an exhibition at the Albuquerque Museum that will inspire dialogue around global warming, local food, healthy communities, and the revitalization of bioregional indigenous agri-Cultural practices. This exhibition will feature an interactive installation including a series of collage prints, audio soundscape, video, a sculptural installation of Seed Stories, a creative reading and exchange station, and a special edition of the SeedBroadCast agri-Culture Journal.

The exhibition will include performance events and gatherings with community partners to cultivate and broadcast seed resiliency.

In 2016-17, SeedBroadCast partnered with Native Seeds/SEARCH and Northern New Mexico indigenous seed savers, acequia farmers, urban-indigenous permaculturists, and youth to creatively explore Seed Resilience in the face of Climate Change. We began this project in 2016 with funding from Robert Rauschenberg Foundation Climate Change Solutions Fund and have since continued this important work with the support from many other organizations and individuals.

During the initial process, we followed four farm projects over the course of an entire year, from spring through summer and autumn harvest. Over these seasons, we interviewed these farmers and community members and used photography and audio interviews to record a multimedia timeline of seasonal happenings: from seeds, to cultivating, planting, tending, drought, locusts, hail, labor, struggle, harvest, and community.

SeedBroadCast encourages communities to keep local agri-Culture alive and vibrant through working together in creative and inspiring ways. Spending time with people on their farms, in their gardens, at seed exchanges, and at community gatherings, SeedBroadCast digs deep into the oft-unheard stories of local agri-Culture producing community based projects, art installations, dialogues, and creative actions. Interdisciplinary collaboration is a founding principal of SeedBroadCast activities where cohorts from diverse backgrounds work together as critical partners of inquiry and creative production.

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Letting Go

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For a moment

a blazing star

astonished a mountain

warming

a heart from within.

But stars are made

of rings of fire.

Flaming Light

torches

Evening sky,

as fierce

and deadly sparks

tumble through

thin air,

burn to cinder,

black ash –

Night Sky Bear

implodes –

strikes frozen ground.

The Garden Wall

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A pile of shattered rock

rose up like a ragged mountain

in the driveway.

How was I going to construct

a garden wall out of

fat hunks of stone?

 

A month of

boundary violations

crumbled poor ground.

The stones of

indifference,

non existent loyalty,

betrayal,

too much light,

heat from the son,

even cows who

rammed

thick bodies

thru barbed wire

seemed intent

on blocking.

 

Attention and Intention.

Both.

 

“Just do it”

a voice said.

And I did –

stone by stone,

crafting

a half moon circle

to rest upon a straight line.

 

Roaring March winds

tangled hair into knots

nipples stood erect on my breast.

The sun burned my

shoulders as a

dream flooded my

imagination,

creating form

from visual clarity.

 

As I worked

I saw Lizards

who would

hide in the cracks,

flaming scarlet

beans

and burnt orange

nasturtiums

climbing skyward

or cascading over

ungainly stone,

bean trees or

waterfalls

vining their way

Earthward

to creep along

the desert floor.

 

I finished the wall

with an odd sense

of completion.

Through this work

I had taken

a stand against

indifference,

dismissal,

violation,

invasion

and self doubt.

 

I hoped my actions

would be enough

to fracture an old pattern.

 

Being taken over by others

obliterates the power of

this Child – Woman’s Light.

Seed Bearer

Yesterday old eyes

stung –

fierce white

heat –

blurred vision.

 

Singing love songs,

I scattered seeds

in furrows

raked smooth,

tucked tufts

under stone…

 

Imagining

a Wildflower riot!

Bittersweet orange,

blue and gold

winding through

rice grass –

sage scrub,

vining over

wave -like gopher mounds.

 

I curb wild imaginings.

High Desert

discerns

what springs

to life – who

will bear flowers

or fruit –

not me.

 

I am Seed Bearer,

Earth’s Daughter –

a woman who

honors her Mother

by aligning herself with

Her Will.

 

Seedcasting

opens the door

to Ancient Story –

Original Memory is

restored.

 

“Mother’s day”

occurs just

as the snow

recedes,

on the cusp

of dark wings

who flash crimson

in the heat of the

son.

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(Cattails dispersing seeds just as I do…)

Working Notes:

I wrote this poem on March 25th without the conscious awareness that I was participating (for the first time this year) in the most ancient practice of seed sowing while honoring that first mother’s day with seed songs…

Because women’s stories live through me it no longer matters what my conscious intention may or may not be. My mind – heart body knows what to do and just when to do it.

Originally, ‘mother’s day’ was a celebration of the Earth Mother whose early spring stirrings begin in the northern hemisphere in late March. Thirty years ago when I first discovered this information in a book of women’s mythology I was struck by the feeling sense of discovering a profound truth that has been buried by Patriarchy.

So it remains to this this day.

 

The Walmart Birds : The Great Tailed Grackle

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I have developed a fascination and a deep respect for the Great Tailed Grackle as a result of making regular visits to Walmart. I began feeding these birds bread crumbs this winter because I like them so much and because I wanted to observe these clever characters hopping about dodging automobiles and people who apparently don’t have much use for them. Some always hang out on the roof with the fake owls that were put there to scare them.

 

I wonder how many people have actually looked at the Great Tailed Grackle because both sexes are quite stunning. The male is glossy black with an ecclesiastical purple iridescence. He has a long, keel-shaped tail, massive bill and yellow eyes. The female is about half the size of the male and looks as if she’s been dipped in brown oil; she has a smaller keel shaped tail. The visual characteristic that stands out the most to me is the brilliance of those bright yellow eyes. These birds radiate intelligence!

And, in fact, studies that have been done on these birds reveal that they are adept at problem solving (even from a human point of view).

For example, the Grackles problem-solving power was tested by posing glass cylinders full of water with bits of food floating just outside the birds reach. To grab the morsels, the birds had to drop in pebbles to raise the water levels. After a number of trials most of the Grackles figured out that dropping pebbles into the water raised the water level so they could feed. They also learned that it was usually more efficient to use heavy pebbles to reach the snack, but if provided with too large stones the birds turned back to small pebbles to reach their goal.

Another test done had even more dramatic results. Silver and gold tubes of food were presented to the grackles but only the gold tubes had peanuts and bread in them. The Grackles immediately chose the gold tubes, but when the food was placed in silver tubes the birds instantly chose them. These tests reveal not only problem solving ability but also the birds’ flexibility in terms of learning.

Its important to note that Grackles outperformed three species in the crow family (Corvids).

This desert-adapted bird doesn’t need much beyond food, trees, water, and its own wits for survival. Once confined to Central America, the species began moving north 200 years ago, and now covers an immense region from northwestern Venezuela up to southern Canada. In 1900, the northern limits of its range barely extended into Texas; by the end of the century it had nested in at least 14 states and was reported in 21 states and 3 Canadian provinces. This explosive growth occurred mainly after 1960 and coincided with human-induced habitat changes such as irrigation and urbanization.

Where people have gone, Great-tailed Grackles have followed: you can find them in both agricultural and urban settings from sea level to 7,500 feet that provide open foraging areas, a water source, and trees or hedgerows. In rural areas, look for grackles pecking for seeds in feedlots, farmyards, and newly planted fields, and following tractors to feed on flying insects and exposed worms. In town, grackles forage in parks, neighborhood lawns, and at dumps. More natural habitats include chaparral and second-growth forest.

Great-tailed Grackles are loud, social birds that can form flocks numbering in the tens of thousands. Each morning small groups disperse to feed in open fields and urban areas, often foraging with cowbirds and other blackbirds, then return to roosting sites at dusk. This evening routine includes a nonstop cacophony of whistles, squeals, and rattles as birds settle in for the night.

As near as I can tell Grackles forage almost anywhere and will eat almost anything. What this says to me is that these kinds of birds have learned to co – habit with humans in very ingenious ways that must include being able to deal with pesticides.

During the last month (March) I have noted that there are fewer Grackles hanging around the parking lot. One reason for this absence may be that during the day some birds are moving into more rural areas to feed. In addition to country foraging and prior to actual nesting, both males and females begin to collect material for the nest site about four weeks before actual breeding begins in April.

Nesting occurs in colonies of a few to thousands, with the nests often placed close together. The actual nest construction is done after this period of “gathering,” which although not mentioned in any of the sources I consulted, must be related to the mating process. The females choose the nest site, and often “borrow” nest-building materials from other females. The nest is made of grass, twigs, reeds, and mud and is woven by the female in about 5 days in a tree, shrub, or hidden in marshland vegetation placed anywhere from 3 to 30 feet off the ground or water. Nest size varies from four inches across to 13 inches deep.

The female will lay 4 to 7 eggs that are pale greenish brown with blotches. The young are ready to fledge in a month. Mother is responsible for brooding and feeding. During this period some male Grackles may guard the nest while the female forages. In contrast some others may pair with a second female during this time leaving the female to manage on her own.

Curiously, fewer male than female nestlings survive. Adult male survival may also be lower than adult female survival, which would result in a female-biased adult sex ratio.

Although there is considerable overlap in the distribution of the three species, the Common Grackle occurs throughout the eastern United States and Canada, the Great-tailed Grackle is found in the Midwest and south/western United States, and the Boat-tailed Grackle is confined to Florida and coastal areas of the Gulf states and the eastern United States.

The Grackle is protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which as far as I can tell, means practically nothing. People routinely haze, shoot, or use pesticides to eliminate these birds but their numbers continue to increase

In this time of great uncertainty due to Climate Change and continued overuse of lethal pesticides I can’t help but feel reassured that some non – human species will survive, and whenever I spend time with the Walmart birds I feel flickers of hope rising. I am already looking forward to seeing the Great Tailed Grackles once again flooding the Walmart parking in Espanola by the middle of May.

The First Moon of Spring

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When I gazed up

and saw her pale round face

pearled and luminous

cradled by the tree

I imagined your arms

holding me tightly

in a “forever” embrace –

The kind

where a child

is never abandoned

to float on a sea

of fear and uncertainty,

betrayal,

impending violence,

and inevitable loss.

 

Crossing the Line

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I remember

the comfort

of being held

by him

when I wept-

the money

he sent me

from college.

 

He was a baby

when I climbed into

his crib to sleep

beside him.

 

Was that when

it all began?

 

Dead all these years

He still lives

under my skin.

 

Yearning,

I follow

the curves

of the river,

hierogplyhs

in the sand,

hungering

for

a body

I lost.