A Seedy habit

  I have a confession. I have an addiction; to buying seeds. 

This time of year is the worst for a seed addict. With nothing much growing in the garden and only a few jobs requiring my attention when the weather permits, I find myself cooped up in the house with a fresh set of seed catalogues from my dealers to tempt me and I inevitably become stuck in the same cycle. 

You see, my ideas are much, much bigger than my plot. My curiosity for growing new plants is almost endless, so every item in those glossy pages catches hold of my interest, and I am unfortunately all too easily seduced into purchasing just another packet. 

Perhaps it is the excitement that got me hooked. Few jobs in the garden are charged with the same emotions as seed sowing. The anticipation I feel when I receive a new packet, the excitement as the seed is carefully sown, the joy as the first shoots appear, the nerves as they are carefully pricked out and weened to adulthood, then the pride you are filled with as they finally develop to maturity, fulfilling their potential and filling your garden with their bounty.

My collection is burgeoning. A tin dedicated to their storage was soon filled, so I upgraded to a shoe-box, which inevitably wasn’t enough and I now have a bag-for-life bursting full of potential life. Not content with just one variety of tomatoes, I find myself wanting to compare several to see which is my favourite. This would not ordinarily be a problem, but when it begins to extend to several varieties of peas, beans and radishes, I begin to wonder ‘where on earth will I sow them all?’ And ‘how will I find the time to take care of them?’ I have an allotment, a veg patch in the garden I take care of, and a few spots in my own minuscule back garden, but even these combined are still nowhere near big enough to grow everything I would like to. 

I have tried to give it up. I reason with myself that I now have more seeds than I will ever need. My collection is starting to rival a seed bank, but I still find it so hard to resist. I have tried saving seeds from my own plants, thus hopefully cutting out the charm of the salesperson and their innate ability to convince me that I need to grow this new tomato or unusual squash, but it has been to no avail. As soon as I hear that catalogue coming through the door I am once again salivating in anticipation, like one of Pavlov’s dogs, ready to get my fix.

Chopping wood

  There is an old Zen Buddhist saying: “Before enlightenment, chop wood and carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood and carry water.” This has been around for millennia, but I have found myself returning to consider its meaning more regularly during the past few weeks. My recent change of job has opened up a whole world of wood chopping which I was almost ignorant to before. My shed is surrounded by large stacks of logs from trees which were felled a few years ago when the garden was redesigned. Along one side of my shed is a large log store split into two bays. The house has open fires and a log burner so I took it upon myself to ensure their was a plentiful supply of fuel to keep the place toasty during the cold winter months. 

During the quieter months of winter and early spring, the processing of these big logs into firewood is a great way to keep active and stay warm. Every morning, after arriving at work, I take my axe to the log stack to limber up for the day by chopping a few logs. The oldest, driest wood was chopped first and moved to stores nearest the house for burning, while I set about the younger, fresher, and damper wood, which would need to be dried in the stores for at least a year before it would be ready to burn. As I began to chop away at the logs I could feel my confidence build, and although I had little previous experience using an axe, I quickly learnt the most efficient ways to split the timber. Before long the wood began to stack up, and just before Christmas I managed to completely fill the stores.

The process of splitting a log can be used as a form of meditation. There is a strong need to be present in the moment and focus entirely on the task. You feel the tension build in the arms, like a coiled spring, as the axe is raised, and need to focus completely on the log as the cold steel of the axe is brought crashing down if you are to successfully cleave it in two. To lose focus at any point would make the task tiring and inefficient and even more importantly dangerous. For the Zen monks that originally came up with this saying, the wood itself would have been essential for providing fuel for the temple. Despite their devotion to quiet, sitting meditation, it would also still be necessary for a monk to complete the seemingly mundane, but essential tasks of life, such as chopping wood and fetching water. I think that the saying implies that by going about our everyday activities with the same focussed state of mind as we would in a more traditional meditation, that our everyday lives can also be a source of enlightenment and are able to give us the sense of fulfilment and satisfaction that we all seek.