I had a wonderful high school biology teacher. I guess I should say I had a wonderful botany teacher.
Miss R. wasn’t keen on things with legs, tails, beaks, wings, etc., but she had an abiding fascination with plants, and a none too shabby ability to draw them.
Hers was a big corner classroom with two walls of windows and two walls of blackboards. This was in the day when black boards were really black and overhead projectors were that newfangled gadget in the corner of the classroom.
Every Monday morning, immense colored chalk drawings of plant life cycles filled every inch of blackboard space. Rumor was that Miss R. went to church Sunday morning, had lunch with her sister, and then spent Sunday afternoon drawing. Looking at the delicate shadings and riot of colors, I believed it.
If you didn’t have a Miss R. in your life, here are the basics. Plants are classified as monocotyledons (one grass-like seed leaf), dicotyledons (two seed leaves) or gymnosperms (like evergreen trees), which are the free thinkers of the plant world and might have anything from zero to eight seed leaves. The root part of a seed is particularly sensitive to gravity. It grows down. The shoot and seed leaves crave light. They grow up. This happens even if they are planted inches deep. They still shoot straight up, aiming for that unseen light as fast as possible.
Growing in the dark has the charming name skotomorphogenesis, which is a spelling bee tie-breaker if I’ve every heard one. Growth takes place without sunlight, without chlorophyll, and depends solely on the energy stored in the seed.
Hitting light is the game-changer. The growth pattern changes to photomorphogenesis, which means that the plant starts making its own food from sunlight. The seed leaves shoot chlorophyll down into the plant, strengthening the root and the stem and out of that energy infusion the first true leaves are born. Seed leaves are usually round green things or long green things, but its in the first true leaves that you get an idea of what the adult plant will look like.
Miss R., seeds and the various morphogenesis have been on my mind recently because I’m in transition from my seed leaves to my true leaves.
I’ve been serious about getting published for a little over a decade. When I started, I was like that plant buried inches deep in the soil. I had a sense where the light might be, but couldn't see it. With the help of a lot of wonderful writers, I managed to aim in the true direction and reach the surface.
Five books published, one more almost here, a seventh being written and dabbling in play writing isn’t a bad tally for my first decade. I’m on the Web, maybe not exactly where I want to be, but I’m there. I teach an occasional class and do a lot of other things related to writing. So you might justifiably think that I’m far past that seed leaf reaching for the light stage. I’m not sure you’d be right.
Shortly now I’ll retire from my day job and, I hope, have more time and energy to focus on writing. I’ve always anticipated that transition as a real marker in my career, a lot like those seed leaves shooting chlorophyll down into the root and expecting the plant to begin making its own food.
I wonder if the plant, like me, gets nervous at this stage? After all, we’ve both had a good ride nibbling off the energy stored in the seed. Can I make it on my own, spread my true leaves, and grow at an even faster rate?
I’m betting that I can. And I can't wait to see what my adult leaves will look like.
I don’t start a piece knowing exactly what effect it's going to have. There is a seed of an idea that I could never articulate, right at the beginning of the piece, literally like one cell.
~Siobhan Davies, dancer and founder of the Siobhan Davies Dance Company