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Seeds Of Same

Updated: Feb 24, 2023

Many different and colorful seed pods in a pile on the counter from Mexico

My dad has Alzheimer’s Disease. He has not always had it, though for a mysterious number of years, he has. It is not a surprise. His mom and grandmother both spent the last years of their lives living in their bodies and not their minds. This is what is happening to my dad.

Something my dad has always had is hope. He’s a seed collector. It is an obscure hobby, but by its nature, a hopeful one. In a perfect world, all seeds would germinate and grow. In this world, only about ½ of seeds germinate and grow into a plant. Maybe the soil is too wet, dry, cold, or hot. Maybe a bird finds it, or the wind blows, or mercury is in retrograde, and the seed will not germinate. Even still, the seeds my dad has collected over his lifetime have grown a forest of plants. When you pass by our old house, it is the only house on the street in a forest rather than a lawn. A huge forest.

Often seed collecting is not legal, but he does it anyway. It does not seem like collecting seeds would be an adventurous activity, but it is. There is usually some trespassing involved, or tree climbing or sneaking. There have been a few international customs lines where I have been medium-stressed to see if we would make it through without the sandwich bag of seeds getting confiscated. When I was in middle school I was utterly embarrassed as we toured botanical gardens and my dad would be in a shrub, lining his pockets with seeds and berries.

We went to Florida to car camp. While I do not recommend car camping in Florida in June, I do recommend going on a nature walk with my dad. On this particular walk, we saw alligators and unfamiliar southeastern birds. We were also unfamiliar with the flora. My dad picked bright green berries and was holding them in his palm. Just then, my mom read the nature sign which said the plant was poisonous. In jest, my dad tossed the berries into the air and pretended to catch them with his mouth, like a peanut or candy. One landed in his mouth. The sign was correct, the seeds were poisonous. He had a rash straight away.

Thirty years later, after my dad’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease, he wanted to explore Mexico with us. My mom was a brave traveler and together they were able to fly to be with us. We rented a car to see the surroundings. Everything was new and tropical. What was a houseplant to us in the United States is in a regular forest there. I don’t think I have to explain how many seeds there are in the tropical forests of Mexico. To say “a lot” is an understatement. On our drive, we pulled over several times to let him out to collect seeds we saw from the car. He would scramble into the jungle. We wondered if he could remember the way back to the car after he had been gone a little too long. He had a gallon-sized plastic bag of seeds to bring back to California.

As his mind erodes, he keeps thinking about seeds. While there are things he can no longer do, like drive or wash dishes, there are many things he can do. The other day all I saw of him was his shoes as I looked out the window. He was 10 feet up picking olives (which are seeds) out of the top branches of my tree. Last week as California was flooding, he was out between squalls to plant his seed stash. One attribute of Alzheimer’s Disease is compulsive behavior. My dad cannot stop finding and planting seeds. It is now a part of his disease. When he was well and young, now when he is old and sick, the seeds are the same.

Emily Dickinson wrote that “hope is a thing with feathers.” I agree: Hope is mysterious enough we need metaphor to understand it, yet I have to respectfully disagree. Feathers make me think hope will take off if I startle it. Or, I have to search for hope, and still, it might fly away. Hope with feathers makes me have to do the work of tempting it to the feeder. The metaphor breaks down quickly for me.

Hope is more like a seed. It is buried deep inside and cannot be scared away. It sends out roots and sends up shoots. It takes a lot of hope in a world so unperfect. It is why we say “full of hope” because it takes a lot of hope. Not every seed of hope will make a plant, but even if half of them do, over a lifetime you will have a forest.

Hope is not an “if.” Hope is not a wish. Hope “is.”

I keep thinking about the idea of planting seeds at the end of your life. My dad will likely never see the trees which sprout up from his plantings. If he does see them, someday soon he will not remember planting them. I keep asking myself, what is the point? Hope. The point is hope. My dad has always been full of hope, and disease and death can’t take that away from him. If we are talking about metaphors, my dad is the perfect metaphor for hope. His hope has sprouted a little seedling in me, making it easier to say goodbye.

Someday in the future, archaeologists will ponder how Cork Bark Oaks, Eucalyptus, Olives, Chestnuts, Buckeyes, and Dawn Redwoods could all be so close together on a piece of land in Northern California. None of us will be around to tell them the answer, but it will be a lovely forest.

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1 Comment

Liane Smith
Liane Smith
Feb 16, 2023

Oh wow! Tyson this is such a thoughtful and beautifully written piece. Thank you for sharing this piece of your dad with us. You’ve given me a really lovely gift today.

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