Hanson, T. 2015. The Triumph of Seeds. New York: Basic Books. p 113-175
I really enjoy the little things. For instance, my parent’s house is that where the only dividing walls are those of the bedrooms and bathrooms. So, in the early wake of the day, from my bedroom, I can hear the quiet mumbling of the brewing morning coffee. Even before I drank coffee, it signaled the beginning of a new day. Its peaceful noise and its distinct strong scent linger in the air every morning and gradually, every morning, the welcoming coffee familiarities are replaced with other sounds of life.
When I began to read Thor Hanson’s chapters of “Seeds Defend,” not a mere 3 pages in read “almendro”(p.116), and suddenly memories of boredom flooded back to me from the previous Thor Hanson reading a few months ago. The funny things is, I made a genuine attempt on my first Thor Hanson blog to be appreciative of the knowledge he had to share. I commented on the educational aspect he successfully incorporated into his personal anecdotes- whilst this is all well and true, the trigger of that familiar almendro, made me realize that I was probably lying to myself. To be completely honest, I really did not appreciate Thor Hanson’s writing that much the first time. So, I begrudgingly continued on from page 116, but to my pleasant surprise- I can honestly share that this time, I really did enjoy Thor Hanson’s writing. I was both amused and intrigued. So, what changed?
Each chapter of Hanson’s Seeds Defend, focuses on one plant and the relationships that exist for those plants. Remarkably fluid in thought, his story encapsulates co-evolutionary relationships, Christopher Columbus, chili peppers, coffee, the KGB, James Bond and of course, the almendro tree. Quite the range of topics. Through the varying topics, I finally understood the lively story telling Hanson has been praised for. With each plant story, Hanson successfully connects the audience. In some instances, he introduces a character to attach us to the moment like when he paints a colourful scene of a coffee shop in Seattle with its java passionate workers. In other instances, he will tie human experiences to connect us to his words like recalling the memory of putting orange slices in your mouth to make funny faces. Through Hanson’s anecdotal writing, I naturally began considering my own experiences, and my own connections to plants. I was reflecting on some of the same plants Hanson wrote about like the coffee plant and the emotional attachments in which coffee has integrated itself into my own life. Those quiet morning brews. He repeatedly incorporates humans, our experiences or both to portray the seemingly unrelated triumph of seeds in history. So, why does this prove so successful for Hanson?
Hanson notes “If Charles Lamb had truly wanted to say thanks for his morning cup, he should have penned an ode to various insects, slugs, snails, and fungi”(p.146). He follows up with “But poets don’t think about larvae and fungi when they make a pot of coffee-nobody does”(p.146). In these harrowing words, lies the answer to Hanson’s success story: ego-centrism. We are egocentric. We are narcissistic. We will always listen more keenly when the story is about us. Hanson’s writing is compelling because the story is about us and our human experiences. This, however, is not necessarily the worst thing for the plants. I have sipped a cup of coffee in 18 different countries. A true global traveler. Not me, but the coffee tree. The tree requires no praise for its existence, it requires just its existence. So our ego-centrism matters not to the tree. Though, I was largely moved my Hanson’s thoughts on where we give our gratitude. Although coffee plants are thriving, we are seeing other considerably drastic and alarming environmental changes. I think Hanson’s words speak to a larger idea that it is crucial to change this egocentric mindset for Earth’s sustainability. Though, it is also not simply our narcissism that is Hanson’s writing. We also simply have a desire to feel and to make connections-as a means of enriching our own existence. Again, Hanson’s writing that naturally provoked my own reflection serve as evidence that he is succeeding in making us think about plants and the relationships we already have unknowingly established with them.
Hanson further delves into the coffee tree and its success. He focuses on the root of its success which is not the root at all, but its seeds and their gift of caffeine. Being a girl who has on numerous occasions researched (excessively googled) the benefits/health risks related to caffeine, I thoroughly enjoyed reading about the topic. To be dramatic about it, I care about my health and I do not want to be blindly sipping morning poisons. Of course, as expected from my own research, Hanson gives no clear answer on the matter. We do not definitely know if the alkaloid’s process in our brain is of concern. Regardless, my enjoyment still derived from reading and more thoroughly learning about the actual process of caffeine-from soil to brain.
An older woman gave me some advice the other week while I was working a wine sampling in the liquor store. She had just recently seen her doctor and she proceeded to share as she sipped the Spanish Temprenillo that she had the best LDL/HDL levels . I am 21, and I have not visited the doctor all that much-especially not to assess my cholesterol levels, so the technical terms were mildly lost on me. Nonetheless, her enthusiasm of the matter withdrew a bright smile from my face. Keen with her health success, she shared her routine. She spoke clearly and well-paced, transcending an air of genuine wisdom, as she said she drank a large strong cup of coffee in the morning, followed by a brisk morning walk with her dog, and later, she enjoyed a large glass of red wine in the evening. Now perhaps, taking blind advice from strangers is not recommended (and perhaps I am biased because I love coffee, dogs and wine), but to me, her story is the soundest evidence I have to believe the benefit of coffee.
I am now two cups of coffee into writing my blog and I cannot quite think of the way to properly conclude my thoughts…Basically, I have come to realize how involved coffee and other plants are in my own life and I have learned how powerful an anecdotal style can be. A week ago, I read a quotation by Paul Nicklen, a biologist and photographer for National georgraphic, that resonated with me and it comes to mind here again: