The 32,000 Year-Old Seeds

by Melannie Svoboda SND on March 26, 2012

Did you read the story about the 32,000 year-old seeds that germinated recently? It seems researchers at the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow found some ancient plants (silene stenophylla) in a fossilized squirrel burrow in Siberia.

They found the plants buried 125 feet deep in a temperature of -7 Celsius. The researchers coaxed the plants back to life and even got some to bloom (pretty white blossoms with five delicate petals) and to produce viable seeds. These plants are now the oldest multicellular organisms on earth. (The previous record was held by a date palm in Israel grown from a 2,000 year-old seed. I wrote about that seed in my book When the Rain Speaks. I’ll have to rewrite that chapter in the next edition of that book!)

I was fascinated by what the researchers said about the enterprising squirrel who stored those plants. First he (or she) had to dig through the frozen tundra to build its burrow. Then she (or he) lined the burrow with hay. Next the squirrel put some animal fur on top of the hay, thus creating a perfect frozen storage unit. The plants lay dormant for 32,000 years because during that time they never thawed and were never tampered with.

This little story is a symbol of hope to me. First, the story reminds me of the tenacity of life–all kinds of life. Life wants to live–and go on living! And given the right conditions, life flourishes–even if it had been dormant for a long, long time. How important it is for us not to give up on other people, ourselves, and our world. And how vital it is that we help create the conditions where life can flourish–whether in our home, workplace, parish, or local community.

Secondly, the story reminds me that some treasures in life are indeed buried. You have to dig to find them. Jesus knew this. He was good at finding the “treasure” in people–like Peter, Matthew, Zacchaeus, the Roman centurion, the woman at the well. Jesus also gave us several parables about finding buried treasure and selling all to procure it. The story of the ancient seeds urges us to be patient with other people and ourselves. It reminds us, “What’s on the surface is not all there is!”

Have you ever seen life germinate in suprising ways and unexpected places? How do you help create the conditions in your “little corner of the world” so that life may flourish? Do you believe only in what you see on the surface, or are you willing to dig deeper for buried treasure?

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Laura Wingert March 27, 2012 at 4:07 pm

Mel, I love this piece. The power of a seed is astonishing. I recently received a letter from a student I had in boarding school who shared with me her determined journey to prove a teacher who told her that she wound never learn math. She began with elementary math and ended with a master’s degree in math. Along the way she did some other pretty amazing things. She was at NDA only a year and a half but in that time a seed was planted that sprouted and grew during her journey and finally blossomed into her and her family coming into the Church. Thanks for your blog. You inspire me. Laura

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Melannie Svoboda SND March 28, 2012 at 9:20 am

I loved your analogy of the seed to the world of teaching, Laura. Yes, we plant seeds as we teach, but we never know what finally takes root, develops, and reaches fruition. Thanks for the living example you provided!

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audrey kirby March 29, 2012 at 7:58 pm

Funny how I just got back from an inspiring retreat this past weeken (thanks Melannie!!), and I was out enjoying a walk when I had a memory come to me that flooded me with emotion. I was remembering my daughter’s young 5 teacher and how I already loved her because of how great she was with the kids (including my precious daughter!). Then I was grinning ear to ear as I thought of how I was communicating with her as a “new school parent”, and how she and I shared such a wonderful moment of communication because of her ability to not only love her students, but other people. I felt so understood, and she even told me my letter was beautiful! I then had the neatest epiphany as I felt the joy of that moment hit me 4 years later, that our kind deeds or gestures or love towards others can reach out to them in the future, repeatedly and maybe when they need it most. I thought of many times I did something for someone that I wondered if they were able to understand the love behind it, or if they appreciated it . Because there have been times I have truly wondered if my efforts were worth it, or i f I had just been silly. I think it’s neat that love has no limits of time.

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Melannie Svoboda SND March 30, 2012 at 6:56 am

Thank you for writing, Audrey! (It was good meeting you in Kalamazoo last weekend!) You make a wonderful point: that loving acts can continue to nourish us years after we’ve recevied them. That’s why it’s so good to reflect on past consoling experiences from which we can draw strength and encouragement for the present. Thank you for that insight!

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audrey kirby March 30, 2012 at 9:53 am

Thank YOU:) It was so nice to meet you too! I am SO happy for this post, as I need more positive online stuff. FB is O.K. for it’s purpose, but very unfullfilling. I have Lsunflowers” as a “shortcut widget” on my cell phone:) Thanks for the idea, maybe I’ll try to be more purposeful in that (if I can). The moment with this special lady came to me out of the blue. Usually I get the best thinking time and ideas (more “intune”) in the shower or on a walk by myself. I am a full time mom…..so those times are so important to me. By the way I’m typing this on my phone, and its hard to see all the typos! It’s a funny little screen that is difficult to scroll:) but it works!!!!

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Jill Trepoy Galloway March 31, 2012 at 1:49 pm

Peace, Melannie! How true that we are responsible for nourishing the “seeds,” people in our lives. I just finished teaching a unit on gardening in my MH classroom. (Would have liked to have some of those 32,000 year old seeds.) We were successful in growing vegetable plants, but it took great care seeing one of my talents is not having a “green thumb.” Seeds are fragile just as those that surround us. Your blog reminds us that are actions, our prayer, must reflect our God’s love, so we can truly witness the fruits of God in each of us! Enjoying your blogs…keep touching lives!

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Melannie Svoboda SND March 31, 2012 at 3:57 pm

Thank you, Jill, for sharing your practical experience with seeds. Yes, “our actions, our prayer, must reflect our God’s love, so we can truly witness the fruits of God in each of us.” Amen!

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Chris Keil April 9, 2012 at 1:15 pm

Hi Sr. Melanie!
I decided to start a garden this year, last year’s wasn’t so successful! Anyway, it’s so exciting to watch the seeds sprout through the ground and start to grow! It’s such a miracle! Sometimes I think I must have missed a lot while I was young, but then realize I must not have been listening to those things back then. It’s a shame that we need to grow older to understand simplicity.
Happy Holy Humor Day! For us it’s pass out day in the world of church liturgy and music!
God Bless You.

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Melannie Svoboda SND April 10, 2012 at 3:23 pm

Dear Chris,
Yes, I’m sure all who participated in the music during Holy Week must be exhausted by Monday…And Yes, I also agree: that we sometimes need to grow older to understand simplicity. Nicely said!

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