Friday, April 22, 2016

Finding allegory in Inky's great escape

There are some amazing stories of pets finding their way home after long absences.  But, an octopus?

Octopi are intelligent, curious creatures. They are so intelligent that aquarium keepers use an enrichment manual to help ward off boredom for octopi in captivity. Aquarium octopi have toys like Mr. Potato Head and Lego, and some can solve puzzles that have a series of locks and keys.

A couple of years ago, an octopus named Inky got himself caught up in a crayfish pot and was in bad shape when a New Zealand aquarium received him. But, despite the aquarium’s tender care and advanced education program, it seems Inky had no intention of staying forever. 

Whether Inky was more inquisitive and restless than other octopi, he was wily enough to escape. I can imagine him plotting his jailbreak like the fish in Finding Nemo, the tale of a clown fish that gets captured, put in a tank, and makes it back to the ocean to be reunited with his father.

Inky’s opportunity for escape came one night a couple of months ago when someone failed to secure his tank properly.  Under cover of darkness, he made his slippery exit from the tank, crept across the floor and squeezed his supple rugby sized body into a 6” floor drain. Good thing the drain led to the ocean.

We can explain Inky’s daring and successful escape using scientific knowledge and common sense.  A number of factors coalesced in his favour. An unsecured tank, no keepers in sight, a wet floor, a drain leading to the ocean, an intelligent, curious creature whose body is perfect for Houdini maneuvers converged in a perfect storm. But I prefer to think of Inky’s escape in terms of mystery.

Seeing Inky's escape as allegory
For Inky, the ocean was home. It was where he belonged. While the aquarium restored him to health, provided for his physical needs in a safe environment, and stimulated his brain, Inky was restless.  His tank mimicked the ocean, but was not the ocean. Ultimately, enrichment activities with intriguing toys were a poor substitute for life on the reef; he was itching to leave the ivory tower of the aquarium and try out his new skills in the real world.  Perhaps something of a metaphysical nature, something that eludes our understanding, fuelled Inky’s desire to escape. Perhaps Inky had an intuition of divinity and his place in creation that compelled him to make a break for the ocean.

So while media reports of Inky’s escape focused on the intelligence of octopi, I saw allegory in the story about Inky.  Inky’s restlessness points to the restlessness of the human spirit of which we are often oblivious.   Like Inky, we are not satisfied with the place we inhabit. While crayfish pots draw us in and capture us, they cannot hold us for long.  Nor can the finest tanks and toys stave off our dissatisfaction.  They are merely distractions from our spiritual longing. 

So, as we attempt to transcend our traps and tanks, we spread our tentacles in search of drains that may lead nowhere. We wind up following the wrong gods home.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Seeds nourish us - body and soul

“Look, Granny. Basil sprouting!” exclaimed my granddaughter as she took me to see the tiny seedlings on the table in her playroom.  Earlier that day, we had wandered around my yard, hand in hand, looking for sprouting things.  We marveled at the tulips poking through the leaf mulch, the buds forming on the lilacs, and the hellebore Lenten Rose blooming on the sunny south side of the house.  The hellebore is the first thing to bloom in my garden and I am always tickled when it blooms before Easter.

A few days later, my husband and I took our granddaughter to Seedy Saturday, a nationwide movement that promotes the cultivation and preservation of heirloom and endangered varieties of food crops.  Our local event had a kids’ planting table, and before our granddaughter planted her seed in the Styrofoam cup that she had filled with soil, she cradled it gently in her tiny hand as if she were in the presence of something holy.

I have a healthy respect for seeds.  Coming from an Italian background, I grew up with a vegetable garden in the backyard. It was a riot of plants that produced abundant crops, many of which my father planted from the seeds he saved annually. Tomato seeds germinated in little pots by the basement window; others we sowed directly into the ground.  From seed to table, I grew up with crunchy carrots, juicy tomatoes, meaty roman beans, tender lettuce and bitter radicchio that tantalized (or tortured) my taste buds and nourished my body. 

Image courtesy of KEK064 at
Seeds keep up rooted
I used to wonder why my father kept seeds when it would have been so much simpler and tidier to buy them.  But, keeping the seeds was a symbolic way for my father to stay connected with the land that his family had farmed for generations in the old country. My father’s method of gardening, including his insistence on planting according to the phases of the moon, kept us rooted with our past.

I shared some of this with Mohawk seed keeper Terrylynn Brant, who sees an intimate connection between the seed, ancestors and land, and who, like my father plants her crops based on the moon. 
Brant grew up in a family that was able to maintain its agricultural practices despite government policies that threatened the traditional agricultural way of life of the communities of the Haudenosaunee. From an early age, she had a passion for gardening, which she believes is her gift from the Creator, and she has always been mindful of the importance of keeping the seeds of her ancestors, some of which, she told me, go back to time immemorial. 

A seed is a sacred thing
For Brant, a seed is a sacred thing and a metaphor for the innate dignity and goodness of the individual.

“Seeds have their own inherent responsibility given to them by Creator. It’s basically to grow and to reproduce themselves. That’s the duty and responsibility they’ve been given…to continue who they are and what they are” and the seed will always do its best to honor the task creation had in mind for it.

Brant applies this concept to people.  “The Creator sent us here as beautiful, perfect beings. He intended us to grow beautiful, to be compassionate with our fellow man, to share everything we have, to love one another.  And yet, we are the ones who mess that up…We should look at the seed, and we should be reminded every time we hold it in our hands what is pure, what is good, what is right, but we do not.” 

There is a genius to a seed that we miss when we lose contact with the soil and the source of the food on our table.  Sowing a seed, nurturing its growth, and plucking its fruit off the vine does more than feed our bodies; it nourishes our spirit.  

When we wonder at basil sprouting or feel our heart leap up at the blooming of the Lenten Rose after a dark winter, we touch the goodness inherent in our selves, and intuit the possibility for our own transformation and that of the world. The seed helps us get back to the garden where we glimpse the perfection and harmony for which we long.