Friday, October 12, 2012

Tinged with Expectation


“Facts collected by a poet are set down at last as winged seeds of truth ... tinged with expectation." 
- Thoreau

The symbolism of seeds is almost too obvious to mention. To the "weed scientist" I spoke with at the University of Minnesota nearly a year ago, a seed is simply a collection of genetic material. The more you look at plant terminology, the more "womb-like" seeds seem (they have "embryos," after all). But of course, the "seed" of anything represents beginnings and potential. Each seed is a story waiting to be told. 

THE VAULT attempts to use seeds to get at themes of human potential, or the lack thereof. Which is interesting, because in a way seeds (and plant life in general) put us in our evolutionary place. Plants predate humans by millions of years. And in fact, when you look at life from the perspective of a plant (which David Attenborough did in his book and subsequent documentary series, "The Private Life of Plants"), you start to see humans (and all animals) as subservient to organisms so sophisticated that they make their own food. All animals, even the staunchest carnivores, ultimately depend on plants to live, as no animal, not even an arctic seal, lives on a diet that doesn't start with plant life. And as for fruit ... well, what are fruits excepts billboards to animals saying "eat this" so that a plant's seeds can be dispersed when they come out the other end? We are plants' bitch. Humbling. 

As for the Svalbard Vault, or any gene bank for that matter, how perfectly does that creation sum up everything great and tragic about the human species? We have the forethought and scientific capability to fashion a way of saving a precious resource from a variety of unpredictable forces, including the most frightening of all: ourselves. This shows our complex relationship with our own potential. The writer Chris Hedges argues that we evolve technologically but never morally. Now, as in every political season, we are pounded with messages conveying our potential as individuals and as a nation. Yet as we age, we face the reality of seeing how flawed we become, and so we turn our  hopes toward our children in an endless cycle of "we screwed things up, but you can fix them." 

We are all, as Thoreau said, "tinged with expectation." The question is, given our mortality ... and more important, our relentless consciousness of it ... what can we truly expect of ourselves, can we ever actually live up to the various potentials that we can imagine, and even if we can't, is there an overall "forward" momentum, or are we merely standing in place, like a plant? 



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