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  • Writer's pictureJean Linville

Gestation & Germination

ges-tate v.t. 1. to carry in the womb during the period from the initiation of the pregnancy to delivery. 2. think of and develop (an idea, opinion, or plan) slowly in the mind. v.i. 3. to experience the process of gestating offspring. 4. to develop slowly. (Random House Webster’s College Dictionary, 1996).

Many years ago I had the privilege of studying under the guidance of the poet Jan Lee Ande. She offered me some very sage advice with regard to the creative process that has stayed with me to this day. She told me to remove "writer's block" and "artist's block" from my vocabulary. Instead, she counseled me to think of periods of time when I was not physically creating work as gestational time. This simple shift is a much more positive way of thinking about the ebbs and flows of the creative process and in fact it is a truer description of what actually occurs. Most works of art happen only after a period of thinking, testing and development, which then results in the germination of an idea that gradually grows into a piece of creative expression.

Lately, my head has been deeply immersed in a gestational state, mainly because in the back of my mind I am both consciously and unconsciously formulating ideas for the exhibition that I am collaborating on next April. While ruminating on all of the possibilities, I try my best to carry on with life. At this time of year that means germinating more than just creative ideas. Now is the time that the seeds of herbs and native wildflowers plants that I want to place in my yard need to be tucked into some soil, watered and set in the sun. It also means that it is time to see if the hickory nuts that I collected last fall can be successfully encouraged to leave their winter gestational period to germinate and hopefully grow into strong saplings.

You would think that with memories of my dad's rather challenging experiences with squirrels, I would have thought out the procedures for my hickory nut germination a little more carefully.

My dad battled with keeping the squirrels out of his bird feeders and feeder storage tubs for decades. Each new innovation on my dad's part, was matched within days with what appeared to be, on the squirrel's part, an ever expanding repertoire of seed stealing skills. As I would find out this week, history does indeed repeat itself.

Day 1 - I unburied the box of hickory nuts and put it in the sun to warm. I also took a second container of hickory nuts out of the walk-in refrigerator that they had been stored in. This last group I placed in a plant tray filled with soil to warm. A few hours later, I noticed that the tray had been rummaged through! Yikes. A quick search found pretty much all of the nuts still there, but a flash of a squirrel image in my mind told me that I needed to be careful. That night all the nuts were moved inside.

Day 2 - The nuts were moved back outside to experience some rain showers and sun. I set up two trays, one of the refrigerator nuts and one of some of the nuts from in the unburied box. I was hoping to determine if one method of stratification worked better than the other. All went well. Squirrels were hanging out under my bird feeders for the first time in months, but they seemed disinterested in the hickory nuts that were sitting in the sun. I had placed plastic plant trays with an open weave over them for added protection and it seemed to work.

Day 3 - Plastic tray covers were pushed to the side and a hickory nut or two were missing from each tray. A warning shot was being fired over the bow. I pulled out some plastic netting, usually reserve for protecting my raspberry bushes, and enlisted it to thwart the squirrels. Silly me! I left the house to do some errands and it seems that the squirrel brigade must have been called in immediately. Upon my return, I found a tangled mess of mesh strewn across the yard. Tangled up inside it were two tray tops and two trays of soil that were completely devoid of hickory nuts. I quickly went to my box, which still had the wire mesh sitting atop it. Luckily the remaining "box nuts" were still tucked in beneath the layers of leaves. I stood in disbelief, but not really, as memories of my dad cursing at squirrels came back to me with a warm smile.

My initial response to the nut theft was one of dismay and defeat. With the loss of my "refrigerator nuts" I would not have any comparative data on my stratification methods, but did that really matter? I decided no, what really mattered was to just try and grow out some new hickory trees. I now saw the squirrels as accomplices and it made me chuckle to think about all the places in my neighborhood where hickory trees might start sprouting. The squirrels had a level of access to private property that I never would. Even though I could now appreciate the work that the squirrels were doing for me, I made sure I secured the remaining nuts that I had. Once they were tucked into their tree pots, watered and safely moved inside, I could turn my creative energies to things other than trying to outwit a bunch of determined squirrels. Hopefully soon new ideas for my exhibition will germinate right alongside the emergence of some hickory seedlings.

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