catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 5, Num 13 :: 2006.06.30 — 2006.07.14


A place to be born

I didn’t think of it as a place of birth at first. I mean, really, when you’re told of a birth, what do you think of? Okay, so you don’t want to remember your experience there, but try to think of the place impersonally. White, it was probably white. And bright. And probably clean, like disinfectant clean. It might even have smelled like disinfectant. Maybe a bunch of people you didn’t know were hovering in a businesslike manner, telling you what to do. Machines, maybe, beeping. Lights flashing. A lot of plastic.  Maybe some equipment to get things moving a little quicker. Windows, if there were any, that didn’t open. Definitely not a place to hang out and have a beer and a conversation about cows, say.

Well, this place is nothing like any of that.  The overall impression is one of warmth and dirt. As in earth. Lots of that. And wood. Wood with cracks in it, weathered, with stains from water on the flat surfaces. There’s also wood for the stove in the corner, for when the nights get cold, and a thermometer hanging from a nail just inside the door. The thermometer is about as high tech as the place gets, though I mostly go by feel as in “hmmm, feels like it’s about 75 degrees in here right now, better open a window.” In fact there are a few nails around, for hanging string and a trowel and a watering can or two.  The place is pretty bright, during the day at least, but the wood and the dirt and the green don’t give the impression of whiteness. At night, as the light fades, there might be a bright warm glow from the stove in the corner, but only if it is cold.  Not enough light to disturb the sleep of a woman close to giving birth. Or a seed, for that matter.

This is the place where my seeds choose to give birth. Or maybe it is the place where my plants choose to be born. Either way, they seem to have a lot of choice in the matter. I mean, I could take them to one of those birthing rooms like the one above. One with the bright lights and the plastic and the disinfected bed and the machines. And I could put the seed on the bed and even give it some coaching: “Push. Okay, breathe. Now push.” But the seed wouldn’t do it (as my grandmother says). It would just lie there.

The seed has a choice. And it chooses moist and earthy and sunlit. It also seems to choose regular kinds of conversations, the repetitive kind, where a child tells her mother in a non-linear way about how the calf looked when it was born the night before. From my experience, the seed also seems to enjoy singing, humming, whistling and the sound of dogs scratching.  It likes the smells of earth, rainwater and smoke from the stove at night.  It doesn’t mind creaky doors and windows,  uneven surfaces and dirt under the fingernails. In fact, the latter holds the promise of nurture, even love.

Maybe it isn’t so much a choice as a remembrance. Perhaps the seed remembers that first morning when God made a growing place watered by God’s very own hands,  when the first seed was planted and called forth. Perhaps the seed remembers God kneeling in the moist earth, with the sun beating down hot on the back of God’s neck, as God shaped and gave life to that first earth-creature. Maybe the seed remembers the dirt under God’s fingernails and figures that moist earth and sun might be the place where those earth creatures hang out; the ones that nurture life. Maybe that is why this seems like a place of promise to a seed.

I didn’t think of it as a place of birth at first. Now it is hard to imagine another place where birth could be so peaceful. Until, that is, I recall that conversation with my daughter about the calf, and I remember the sweet hay-filled smell of the barn.

Sylvia Keesmaat gave birth to this article in her greenhouse on Russet House Farm, where she lives in Cameron, Ontario. She has also given birth to two daughters in a sunlit bedroom.

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