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Seedfolks, Essay Example

Pages: 4

Words: 1157

Essay

Introduction

Paul Fleischman’s Seedfolks is about many things, but above all relates how a sense of community can develop.  That this community comes together over a single yard, and through the planting of a few vegetables, is also very important; by this process, the reader comes to feel how people are so naturally drawn to organic life that the caring for it draws out equally natural senses of mutual responsibility and humanity.  Individual histories and characters, powerful and dictating those lives, are set aside because the power of simple, natural growth is greater.  For me, however, the impression made is less about the connections forged between the people, and more about the individual feelings for the earth.   Most especially, it is Wendell’s story that has meaning for me.  An old janitor with a life marked by despair, his entry into the “garden” is even not entirely his choice, as he is complying with a request to help.  Another tenant has seen a little girl placing something in the ground, and the woman thinks that drugs are being hidden.  The tenant, Ana, discovers that the objects were only Lima beans, but her concern changes when she sees that they are not being watered, and she then turns to Wendell (Fleischman, 1999, pp. 5-8).  It is here that his personal transformation begins.  Something happens to him there, and the beautiful simplicity of it has a specific meaning for me.

Experience and Relevance

When I was in my early teens, I too was not living in anything like a “natural” environment.  We were not exactly city people, but nature was still largely restricted to nearby parks and playgrounds, and the small patches of lawn some homes and apartment buildings had.  I did not ever feel a lack of being exposed to natural elements.  When you are young, your world is your world, and you do not long for what you have never known.  At some point, however, I came by a very small tomato plant.  I cannot remember how this happened, which strikes me as strange in itself.  I only know that I immediately took possession of it with an intensity surprising to myself, as I remember how I felt when I first set it on a window sill in its new pot.

In Fleischman’s story, again, language is as simple as the actions of his people.  When I read one line, however, my younger self fully came back to me, and at that moment by the window.  Going into the yard to assess the situation, Wendell acts as any person would, to see if Ana was right and his help is needed: “I bent down and gave the dirt a feel” (Fleischman, 1999, p. 11).   Fleischman does not then tell the reader of any radical change even beginning in Wendell, because that is not how life happens, and that is what gives the simple line so much force to me.  In reading it, I was taken back to that window, and feeling my own fingers press into the soil I had carefully packed into the pot.  I felt the damp of it and, in moving it, inhaled what can only be called the earthy scent of soil.  I did not have a garden.  I did not even have a large and respectable tomato plant.  It was nothing more than maybe six inches of dirt holding a flimsy base of plant stem, supported by a stick I had tied to it.  At the same time, there seemed to be a whole acre, or even vast field, of natural land right before me.  I was touching the dirt around the plant and I suddenly felt connected to the land everywhere, enriching and supporting life.  These were not conscious thoughts in me, and I am not even sure I had a sense of them as feelings even then.  There was, however, a rightness to the moment that struck me as both new and very important.  I certainly did not decide, then and there, to devote my life to farming, but I definitely knew that I would care for that little plant as best as I could.

Other changes, small and large, occurred to and in me as a result of that little plant.  For months, I took care of it, trying to learn as I went along if I was watering it correctly, or giving it too much sun.  I was not obsessed, but I had a sense of an obligation that went beyond the plant.  It seemed like this was a way of testing myself, and of seeing if I could responsibly attend to something both natural and removed from my normal occupations.  That it did not require much in the way of actual care reinforced the importance of it.  More exactly, it was up to me to make it important through my attention.  People that age, I think, tend to take in lessons without knowing what they are, or how deeply they will influence them, and I feel that this is what was occurring.  I can affirm this by remembering the feeling I had when I saw small tomatoes begin to grow.  It was not a feeling of triumph or pride.  Instead, it was a powerful sense of mild satisfaction.  I not only had a small connection to the natural world, I could also be a part of it.

This small plant had something else to do with my sense of myself.   It was completely mine, and I was possessive of it, even as no one in my family was interested.  At the same time, and in a minor way, I also think my care for it had an effect on how I was seen by my family, too.  As Fleischman says: “If people know something belongs to a person…they’re more likely to leave it be”  (1999,  p. 45).  Just as caring for a living plant is a natural activity, so too does it promote a natural respect between people.  It may be, as in Seedfolks, a subtle link binds us all, in that we as living beings have a reflex of regard for whoever cares for life.  This, at least, is what I felt.

Conclusion

As I said, my experience with the tomato plant did not inspire a lifelong dedication to pursue farming.  The plant, in fact, died, although I did my best to prevent this.  As I look back, in fact, I think I over-watered it, and this is also a crucial lesson I should consider.  In Seedfolks, the characters gain insights into themselves and others through a largely silent cooperation in reclaiming an abandoned yard in Cleveland.   In my experience, much of the same thing happened, though on a strictly personal level, because connecting to anything outside of ourselves has the effect of reinforcing ourselves.  The message, as I see it, is that life needs to support life, if it is to have any real meaning for itself.

References

Fleischman, Paul.  (1999).  Seedfolks.  New York: HarperCollins.

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