David Marks
David Marks

Seed of the Desert Acacia

Acacia tree and desert landscape near Masada, Israel
Acacia tree near Masada - © Westend61 / Cavan Images

I was invited on a journey into the Negev desert by a friend who was leading a group of Israeli teens. They were children who had some trouble with the law or suffered difficulties at home; they were going out into the desolate wilderness to face its challenges, and in turn, their own troubles.

Over a few days of hiking and climbing, we began to appreciate the power of emptiness. The simple meals and talks around campfires aroused our primal human instincts. I felt honored to share this fascinating experience with my companions; we all gained new perspectives.

Our small caravan meandered on dusty roads, through dry river beds, and traversed canyons and rugged treeless mountains. One afternoon, we encamped near a glorious oasis, where water majestically sprung from cracks in the rocks, forming pools that called and nurtured all life around, including us.

On another scorchingly hot day, we stopped for lunch, and our group slowly approached a huge ancient tree that provided the only cover for as far as the eye could see. As we walked towards this lonely, powerful, living icon, I asked my friend what it was. 

He said, “This is a Desert Acacia, like the one in the Sinai that was used to build the chest holding the ten commandments: the Ark of the Covenant.” 

In addition to its religious significance, the Acacia’s unique life force in the scorched terrain was impressive. Avoiding low branches and thorns, I found a perfect place to sit on a flat rock, surprised at the amount of welcoming shade. 

I hadn’t noticed, until after having a cold drink and some food, that there were a few dried pods scattered in the area. Most were empty, but one had three black seeds, and I asked one of our guides if they could be grown into another Acacia. 

He confidently told me, “It’s very difficult. They won’t germinate unless ingested first by a wild goat.” 

This intrigued me further as I held the seeds, considering what I might do with them.

Seeds of  Change

I’m instinctively drawn and driven by the permutations of nature; the majestic woodlands of the world have always called me. Even as a child of city suburbs there was a small patch of woods beside a creek near my home, where I wandered in my youth, collecting rocks and acorns.

One of my early memories is camping with my family and the instinctive joy of waking up at dawn to the sparkling smell of a forest. I recall dissecting a pine cone and finding its hidden seeds, wondering how they became the tiny trees poking up from the ground, destined to join the green canopy above me. 

Seeds continue to fascinate me as practical little packages, and also inspire me because of their capacity for transformation.

I’m amazed at the vast amount of information stored in a seed. Within it is the essence of fertility and regeneration. This incredible source of potential energy is often underestimated.

I’ve always appreciated seeds’ mystical qualities. We have some understanding of the biology that forms them and shapes their destiny, however, their immense force in maintaining the perpetuity of life is immeasurable. 

Quiescent seeds hold the essence of nature’s power, they also symbolize our readiness for growth.

Inspiration can be generated from the seed of an idea, leading to action. And much like a seed, when our creativity is dormant, it isn’t always easy to recognize our ability to grow or change. 

We discover doubts in our earliest years; and as we age, we wonder about our ability to survive and thrive. Life holds relentless challenges: while learning, through illness, or struggling to dispel conflict. It is usually in retrospect that we recognize that seeds of change existed within our difficulties and uncertainties. 

A seed awakens in the right environment; very slowly yet surely, pushing up through the soil for light and extending its roots downward for nutrients. Seeds take small steps to begin overcoming obstacles, gradually flourishing.

The Doubted Seeds

Despite being an incurable optimist, the Desert Acacia seeds in my hand had their viability in question. But rather than toss them away to their own destiny, I tucked them into a recess of my backpack.

Having forgotten about the seeds before returning home across the ocean, as I unpacked and re-discovered them, they evoked memories of the desert. I put them on a shelf near my desk as a memoir of my trip into the Negev.

A few months later, questions about the Desert Acacia came to mind. I found some interesting religious references and other very detailed scientific studies. Many species of Acacia populate the tropics and sub-tropics around the world, and there are a number of very similar native varieties in the Negev and Sinai deserts. They survive because of a very deep taproot that finds moisture in a realm that seems to have little or none.

One of the reports on how the seeds were propagated confirmed what I was told; if they don’t destroy them by chewing, a goat’s digestive tract can help break down the hard seed coat. But there were many factors that made viability unlikely, including where it was deposited at the end of its passage through the goat, and the amount of surface water initially available. Goats weren’t necessarily needed for activation.

The greater problem for survival was the prevalence of minuscule beetles that bore into the seeds as they lay on the ground. I quickly went and retrieved my seeds and with a magnifying glass, could see some tiny holes indicative of infestation. 

Despite increasing doubt, I decided to give them a chance. After soaking the seeds for a few days, I put all three in a large pot with good soil, in a warm, south-facing window.

I gave them water, but not too much. These were desert seeds that probably would disintegrate with too much moisture. Time passed with no sign of growth, and after two months of waiting, and decreasing expectation of their survival, I gave up hope. 

After not watering for a couple of weeks and with plans to plant something else in the large barren pot, I happened to see a tiny green spike emerging from the soil. Most likely a weed, I thought, but I waited.

After another week, at about one inch, the growth looked like nothing that I’d seen before. I dug carefully with a fingertip and found two of the black seeds had softened and crumbled as I touched them. I cautiously found the third, and miraculously, it was the source of the new growth.

Over the next few years, I nurtured the sapling, and it had a good home, though very far from any desert. It grew with unhurried determination, extending small branches that even had a few thorns. I often looked at the young tree, recalling its origin and unexpected birth.

Despite my hesitation and foreboding surrounding the seeds, the growth of this Acacia held an important message for me: when facing uncertainty and fears for the future, there is always the potential for a way forward. When there is hopelessness and no apparent path, when seemingly impossible tasks test my patience and weigh me down, innovative and inspired solutions can be found.

Within the holy symbolism of the wood of the Desert Acacia and its relentless endurance in the desert, is a simple yet persistent seed.

I continue to sow and experiment with seeds; their power to emerge into vegetables, flowers, and trees will never cease to amaze me. Nurturing them and participating in their planting, birth, and growth renews my hope for the future and reinforces my connection to nature, and to humanity.

Young Desert Acacia – © David Marks

About the Author
David is a philosopher, filmmaker and writer whose focus is making a better world. He has produced a number of investigative films for both the BBC and PBS, including Nazi Gold, dispelling the myth that Switzerland was neutral in WWII. Information about his recent book, The Way, an interpretation of the Tao Te Ching, an ancient treatise about humanity's place in nature, is available at LaoTzu-TheWay.org.
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