47. Lost for words
How a change in routine had stopped me shaking the seeds of ideas into the world.
I am not a gardener: something that as the smallest green shoot in a family of horticulturists I am reluctant to admit.
But spring is in the air, bringing with it germination, growth and hopes of harvest. We’ve been pottering in the garden already, trying not to notice the very forward behaviour of that pair of loved-up pigeons, or that the grass is already overdue for its first cut. Instead we’ve been emptying the crumbly compost from its plastic Dalek and spreading the goodness across our single raised bed in the hope that our veg-to-be will duly flourish later in the year.
I’ve just bought some seeds, and, like every year, I’m surprised that they’re imprisoned in tiny, foil-lined packets inside much larger wrappers which show their promised potential. Why are the seeds trapped, not allowed to stretch out in their pretty envelopes?
I turned to Google.
These packets keep seeds air-tight, fresh and protected from damage, leading to higher germination rates. Never open the internal foil packet until you’re ready to sow the seeds.
Since trimming back my exercise regime towards the end of last year I’ve been missing moving my muscles and my mind. Winter weather-induced indolence had begun to set in in late autumn. For most of last year I’d been enjoying long walks: setting off for sometimes a whole day of adventuring – my rucksack containing everything I’d need, and usually tonnes of stuff I didn’t – out in the wilds.
But as the days had grown shorter so too had my walks, until I felt lucky even to manage a single muddy loop of my most local circuit. In the summer I’d be walking at least two hours a day, but by December I would barely achieve a quarter of that: instead I would favour a stay-close-to-home route taking thirty minutes tops, just to check off some time outside.
With this new winter routine, something was different, I felt different: I was feeling constrained. And my brain was different, too: instead of buzzing with words it was static and still; any ideas I’d hoped to think about, to work through, were captive, not breathing, like those tiny seeds trapped in their airless packets. Over time, my words had withered.
I hadn’t even been getting lost – well, I probably had, but not lost enough to write to you about.
You see, I wasn’t writing, at least not while I was walking: I was no longer stopping to scribble my thoughts into my pocket notebook before they got lost. Usually I love this aspect of my walks: I generate ideas, I mull them over, I write them down, and when I get home I enjoy the greedy harvest, either storing the spoils or setting them to more immediate work in my writing projects.
But in those listless weeks of winter my seeds of thought had put their germination on hold, and now I feared they’d dried up altogether. I’d had no idea at the time, but by narrowing my walking window I’d narrowed my writing practice in equal proportion. Seeds can’t grow in a packet, just as my thoughts and ideas can’t grow if they’re stuck inside my head.
But Google tells me that not all seeds are stuck in foil-lined packets.
Some seeds…, such as peas and beans, for best results should not be sealed… as these seeds need to breathe.
Need to breathe. Reader, I know how they feel.
I’m not sure of the science behind not sealing pea and bean seeds, but going by size alone I’d say that these runner bean seeds – free to move, not sealed in a tiny packet – are big enough to look after themselves.
I’m thinking that any ideas and thoughts that are on the scale of a runner bean seed can hold their own. They’re not the ones that are trapped. It’s the little ideas, the tiny seeds, that are stuck inside a packet and need a little shake to gee them up and send them out into the world to germinate. Shaken onto the page, those ideas have the chance to grow into words or phrases, a sentence, then a story.
Reader, to futureproof my body and safeguard my writing practice, I’ve started walking again. Not my little local loop any more, but longer distances over which I can stretch both my muscles and my mind.
On my very first rucksack walk in mid January, at about the hour-out mark, my brain began to wake up. Not only was my body feeling better to be moving again, but there were suddenly thoughts, words and ideas stirring and expanding in my head. A switch had been flicked. It was extraordinary.
My seeds of thought at last began to rattle against each other again, and to breathe. And now I was breathing, too.
Those thirty minutes of movement on my winter walks simply hadn’t been enough for me to get what I was needing. For my words to spring to life, for that foil-lined packet of my brain to open enough to shake its contents out into the world, I need sustained movement. I need to walk, and I need to think, and over the winter I’d lost my grasp on how interdependent those two things are.
My ideas need space and movement.
My thoughts wither without air and energy.
And without my walks, I’m lost for words.
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Did you catch my latest post in the ‘Letters to Terry’ series? I’m looking forward to his response to it on Wednesday. You can read all our correspondence so far right here.
My next ‘Dear Reader, I’m lost’ post will of course appear as usual next Saturday.
Taken from the tutorial ‘How to grow plants from seed’ on the Haynes website.
Taken from the ‘Seed packets’ section of the Postage & packaging page on the Groseeds website.
Loved this! The Garden as a Metaphor is something I have returned to time and time again for grounding, understanding, and a place to let my tears drop and plot into the soil. I am so glad for you that your research into the little seed packets and their needs brought you to yours. Walk ON!
Oh Rebecca I loved this!! Your words were brilliant and captured that feeling of being trapped and needing to move and the winter doldrums making it so hard to break out! Thanks for bringing that feeling to life. I am just like you in that walking = life and brain power. I can hardly form my emotions without walking to help midwife the process. I'll come back to this one many times ❤️