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Knowledge Creates a Fertile Soil for Seeds of Understanding

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           The seed represents the beginning, survival, resistance, and a culture of farming. In Ruth Ozeki’s novel, All Over Creation, Ozeki redefines the meaning of seeds. Seeds are present in nearly every pivotal moment in the novel and are used to show the characters’ willpower, hard work, skill, and concern for seeds. The seeds are a symbol of the characters’ strength, persistence, loss, and will to survive. Seeds take on different meanings and roles throughout the novel including a demonstration of anger and letting go. Seeds uncover connections that lie below the seemingly unyielding surface.

            Yumi’s mother, Momoko, represents one of the main themes in the story, the advantages of working with nature rather than manipulating, abusing, or destroying it. Momoko cultivates seeds from exotic flowers and vegetables. Geek, the leader of the Seeds of Resistance, a group of ecoactivists that protest genetically modified foods, learns about Momoko’s diverse and natural way of gardening and growing plants. The Seeds are impressed and interested in the way Momoko cultivates her seeds. By working with her natural surroundings and not using unnatural chemicals to enhance her production, she is tearing at the structure of farming-the root, and an idea of contaminating the earth that is widely accepted around Idaho, the setting of the novel. Her seed collection process is an act of resistance. She is an inspiration to Geek and an example of hope in a seemingly ignorant and unconscious world.

           The Seeds go to Liberty Falls, Momoko’s hometown, to learn about her harvesting techniques and become engrossed in her seeds:

So what you are sitting on here at Fullers’ Seeds is a library containing the genetic information of hundreds, maybe thousands of seeds-rare fruits and flowers and vegetables, heritage breeds many of them, and lots of exotics. These seeds embody the fruitful collaboration between nature and humankind, the history of our race and our migrations. Talk about narrative! (162).

Geek sees the historical value and importance of seeds. Through Momoko’s alternative techniques, not using pesticides or hormones, Momoko represents an opposition to the mainstream way of growing vegetables. Momoko does not destroy the land by using pesticides and other harmful chemicals, which many farmers use, but instead creates new life- plant species- in more natural ways and is therefore an inspiration to Geek. The principles of Momoko’s gardening directly connect with Geek’s mission to transform the United States’ agricultural system into a natural, healthy, sustainable industry. She is the change he wants to spread. Momoko represents the first seed, step.

            Geek also concludes that there is a way to work with nature that is beneficial to the cultivator and nature. Geek sees himself and people as part of a natural process, intimately connected to his surroundings. He is astounded by how nature creates, evolves, destroys, and nourishes. He finds beauty and love in this connection and therefore is willing to go great lengths and take considerable risks to protect a part of him, his brother, sister, cousin, mother. In a world where from Geek’s perspective, people are extremely disconnected to their food and the roots of what they eat, Momoko and Lloyd understand and appreciate their dependence on nature’s miracles and produce.

             From the beginning of the novel, Momoko’s life is revolved around working with her seeds. She spends most of her time with them, even singing to them. The seeds are the product of her life’s work. Momoko demonstrates her connection and love for her seeds: “Those are only flowers now, but they gonna be seeds.’ She stretched her arms to accomodate the whole garden. ‘Everyone gonna be seeds” (332).  Momoko’s life becomes intertwined with the life and success of her seeds. Momoko has Alzheimer’s disease and as the story progresses, she begins to forget who her family is, where certain objects belong in the house, and how to cook, but her knowledge and green thumb stays with her. Momoko speaks to her seeds and nurtures them. They are her most prized possession. In the novel, seeds carry histories and remind characters of who they are and who they once were, and Momoko is no exception.

            Even in Momoko’s weakened state, the seeds are a reminder of her strength and fortitude. She begins to forget the names of some of her plants but continues to wander around her green house trying to recall them. Momoko’s desire to give and spread her gift with others is portrayed in the attention she gives to her plants and her willingness to take on and learn about new plant species from her customers and others who discover her experience and knowledge.

            Lloyd also roots his identity in seeds. Lloyd and Momoko write letters and advertisements to current and future customers. Lloyd expresses his concern and attachment to the seeds that they produce:

Scientists do not understand Life Itself, and when they meddle in its Creation, they trespass on God’s domain. Beware of the ungodly chimera they manufacture in their laboratories! It is our nature and our sorrow to confuse Man’s mortal hubris with God’s Divine Will. Mrs. Fuller and I hope that there are enough of you out there who share our views, and who will choose to cultivate wisely this Garden that we were given, rather than turn it into a wasteland (105).

Though the Fullers’ main goal in sending these letters is to sell seeds, the messages they send out with their seeds demonstrate their resistance to harmful chemicals and genetically modified seeds. In the Fullers’ letters, the seeds represent farming and traditions. The Fullers’ are proud of their unique ways of cultivation and want to inform people about the importance in connecting the land to making a living and survival. These letters are a form of activism and spreading awareness, which is one of the main goals of the Seeds of Resistance and is not surprisingly how the Seeds learn about Lloyd and Momoko’s seed business.

            The Seeds travel around the country spreading the message that genetically modified potatoes and other vegetables are harmful to the environment and the people who consume them. Ruth Ozeki states Seeds’ mission through the character, Geek:

Go back to language for a moment, Frankie, and think about this: Genetic engineering is changing the semantics, the meaning of life itself. We’re trying to usurp the plant’s choice. To force alien words into the plant’s poem, but we got a problem. We barely know the root language. Genetic grammar’s mystery, and our engineers are just one click up the revolutionary ladder from a roomful of monkeys, typing random sonnets on a bank of typewriters. We’ve learned a lot about letters-maybe our ability to read and spell words now sits halfway between accident and design-but our syntax is still haphazard. Scrambled. It’s a semiotic nightmare (124-125).

In the passage, Geek asks how people can manipulate seeds and plants without understanding their design in the first place. Geek questions the idea of taking advantage and changing the chemistry of plants. He proposes working with the natural world. Geek is not only an activist, but he has a concern and appreciation for the strength and complexity of nature, especially seeds and farming. Geek finds inspiration for his resistance in the extraordinary creations of nature. Geek’s passion and humbleness, especially in regards to understanding nature inspires the other Seeds, specifically Frankie in this case. Geek uses seeds to implant and inform people about what they are consuming.

            Seeds are planted inside the most critical passages in the novel. Ruth Ozeki uses seeds to illuminate tensions when Yumi returns home and sees her father for the first time in the hospital: “The air around her filled with a cloud of black seeds. He could feel them, raining down on top of him, like a tickling wind. He watched them bouncing crazily off the tabletops and skittering across the floor” (71). Momoko showers seeds around Lloyd’s hospital room when Lloyd first sees Yumi after she ran away. Momoko scatters the seeds because she is enraged with Lloyd’s stubbornness and refusal to acknowledge his daughter’s arrival.

            In this scene, Momoko’s anger and frustration with the lack of her family’s cohesion is represented in the scattered seeds. Unlike Lloyd, Momoko is willing to let go of the past because she has a greater concern- her connection with her daughter. Momoko realizes that her daughter did not have to come visit her at all. Momoko is able to look past the complexity of her relationship, history, and previous feelings connected to her daughter and embrace Yumi fully when she first arrives.

            Momoko reacts to Lloyd’s static character and refusal to accept or forgive his daughter for what she did as a teenager by shattering the tension in the room. Momoko tries to breakdown the barriers of knowledge, time, and experience between Yumi, and Momoko and Lloyd. The seeds symbolize Momoko’s concern for family and willingness to forgive and move on. They are a connection to a root, a connection that used to exist. Momoko is one of the most warm and calm characters in the novel, and therefore her outrage is even more compelling. The seeds that are spread across the room represent Momoko’s hope for her family to connect and her garden to prosper. A new beginning.

            The seeds separate Lloyd and Yumi physically, in the hospital, and in-terms of their concern for the seeds. Though Lloyd is more reserved and removed upon Yumi’s arrival, he still has a profound love and concern for her that lies beneath the surface. His seeds of love for Yumi lie below the dark, thick, rich ground, and do not surface and grow until the end of the novel when the reader learns that Lloyd loved and cared about his daughter all along.

            Seeds ground people and connect characters to their land throughout the story. People’s stories, especially Lloyd’s, is tied to the land: “Everything,’ he whispered. ‘Of life…’ His words were like faint puffs of a breeze stirring. ‘So beautiful! Everyone I love… was there. Momoko. My father, mother. All my seeds. My potatoes.” (366).

            Momoko and Lloyd remember events in relation to how well their businesses were doing or the price of potatoes at a given time. Growing potatoes is Lloyd and Momoko’s pride and joy. It is part of their culture. The seeds represent their connection and love for each other.

            The term, “seed” is used to describe people’s personalities and where they come from. The section where Elliot returns to Liberty Falls is entitled “bad seed.” After Cass’ father, Carl, and Yumi’s father, Lloyd, learn that Yumi had an abortion, Carl tells Lloyd that his daughter is a “bad seed.” These are all examples of painful moments in the novel that separate and divide characters. The seeds are present in moments when there is a lack of understanding and connection. At the end of the novel the seeds prove to be a more literal disconnection when Lloyd and Momoko desperately search for someone to continue their family business and their only daughter is unwilling, nor has the knowledge or skill to take over the trade.

             When Yumi returns to Liberty Falls so her parents can meet her children, she has no appreciation for her father’s farming or her mother’s gardening. Ruth Ozeki shows how Lloyd has to beg Yumi to help out their family business: “For your mother. If I can’t take care of her, they’ll put her away. She won’t have her garden. Her seeds. They’re all she remembers, Yumi.” (104) Yumi demonstrates an obvious lack of interest in her parents’ work. She does not appreciate the importance or uniqueness of their farming. She does not understand their connection to their land and their histories embedded in the soil. Though many characters have a lot of promise throughout the novel, none of them seem to be truly happy and satisfied in their lives.  

             Yumi looks and feels out of place because she does not connect with the land because of her memories of guilt, shame, and pain that are saturated in it. Though she tries to separate herself from her seed- who she was and where she began- it was implanted in her long ago and continues to define her. Her “home” is a seed to a past she had tried to erase, forget, and discard. At first, returning to her family did not turn out to be a renewal or growth from the past, but rather a deeper entrenchment into it, but by the end of the novel, it is evident that she learns about her past and her father’s love that was implanted in her so long ago, but needed to be weeded and dug out.

              Seeds represent characteristics, are a physical manifestation of possibilities and hope, and the beauty of nature. Seeds are rooted in the characters’ histories, memories, relationships, life works, and connections. Seeds represent an appreciation and understanding of nature that is especially noticeable in the group, the Seeds. Though seeds take on positive and negative connotations and meanings, they accompany every critical scene in the novel. At the end of the novel, Lloyd’s last thoughts before he dies are of his daughter, his wife, and his seeds.

 Works Cited

Ozeki, Ruth L. All over Creation. New York: Viking, 2003. Print