Study Guide

Seedfolks Time

By Paul Fleischman


The sidewalk was completely empty. It was Sunday, early in April. An icy wind teetered trash cans and turned my cheeks to marble. In Vietnam we had no weather like that. Here in Cleveland people call it spring. (1.4)

Even though Seedfolks starts off in the spring, it sure is cold outside. And it looks like Kim isn't a fan. What do you think of the way she describes her cheeks turning to "marble"? Pretty poetic, huh?

I took out my spoon and began to dig. The snow had melted, but the ground was hard. (1.6)

Cold weather = tough luck with gardening. Kim is the first one to try her hand at planting lima beans in the vacant lot, and the ground is not giving in easily.

"Some kind of beans." I grew up on a little farm in Kentucky. "But she planted 'em way too early. She's lucky those seeds even came up." […]

You don't plant beans till the weather's hot. (3.7, 11)

Wendell knows all about growing beans. And if there's one thing he knows for sure it's that timing is everything. Looks like Kim is lucky that her beans grew despite the cold weather, since she really should have planted them in the summer. Thanks for the tip, Wendell!

The next morning was the first day without school. I was done with fifth grade forever. I'd planned on sleeping till noon to celebrate. But when it was still half dark my father shook my shoulder. School was over but that garden was just starting. (7.2)

Time is not on Virgil's side. All he wants is to spend the summer relaxing, but his dad and the new garden have a different plan. Sounds like Virgil won't be sleeping in for a while—sorry, buddy.

The minute it came up, it started to wilt. […] Then the heat came. The leaves shriveled up. Some turned yellow. That lettuce was dying.

[…] My father asked all his passengers what to do. His cab was like a library for him. Finally, one of 'em told him that spring or fall was the time to grow lettuce, that the summer was too hot for it. (7.16-17)

Summer isn't a friend to Virgil or to lettuce. Try as he might, Virgil can't beat summer's heat and its ability to make lettuce wilt. So Kim's beans need the heat, but Virgil's lettuce can't stand it. Can't a kid catch a break around here, huh?

It was already the middle of summer, so she had us plant radishes since they grow fast. […]

After the radishes came squash, then Swiss chard, which nobody knew how to eat. I was in my seventh month. (11.4-5)

When Maricela is working in the garden, her group leader has them growing plants that work with the seasons. But time isn't just important for Maricela's plants. It's also important for her body. Maybe humans aren't so distant from nature, after all.

It was a power failure.

[…] "Whole city shuts down, but the garden just keeps going," Leona said. She talked on, how plants don't run on electricity or clock time, how none of nature did. How nature ran on sunlight and rain and the seasons, and how I was part of that system. (11.7-8)

According to Maricela, Leona has some pretty cool things to say about time. So let's break down Leona's theory. She says there are two kinds of time. First, there's "clock time." Since Leona mentions electricity, we're thinking she means that "clock time" relies on machines like alarm clocks and timers. And Leona says plants just don't keep track of time this way. Instead, plants run on the second type of time, which is based on the seasons. Seasonal time isn't necessarily the same as "clock time"—after all, plants aren't going to listen to alarm clocks; they're going to listen to the sun. We have to admit, if running on "clock time" means we have to wake up to a 6:00AM alarm but the sun doesn't wake us up until 9:00am, well we're thinking the sun might just be the winner.

It was beautiful weather, sunny but not hot. Fall was just beginning and the garden was changing from green to brown. Those of us who had come to work felt the party's spirit enter us. The smell of the roasting pig drifted out and called to everyone, gardeners or not. Soon the entire garden was filled.

It was a harvest festival, like those in India, though no one had planned it to be. (12.7-8)

Time sure is flying by in this garden. We've gone from spring to summer and now it's turning into fall. Check out how Amir dubs the impromptu fall party they're having a "harvest festival." Makes sense, since harvest (a.k.a. gathering the grown fruits and veggies) normally happens in the fall once the weather cools down.

That winter was a cold one. Cold as Colorado. You'd walk by the garden, covered with snow, just the fence tops sticking out, and you'd try to remember it back in July. Someone stuck a Christmas tree there in December. It stayed up until March. It's hard to tell one month from another that time of year. It's all just winter. Because of the weather I missed lots of walks. When I did get out, I couldn't go past the garden without slowing down to look, even though there was nothing growing. (13.6)

It's wintertime in Cleveland, and that means no more plants in the community garden. Florence seems pretty bummed about it, especially since winter is extra long in Cleveland.

You can't see Canada across Lake Erie, but you know it's there. It's the same with spring. You have to have faith, especially in Cleveland. Snow in April always breaks your heart. I think we had two April snows that year. Waiting for snow to melt was like waiting for a glacier to move. Finally it was gone for good. The ground was back, and last year's leaves, like a bookmark showing where you'd left off. It was a joy to get out again. […] Then one day I passed it—and someone was digging. (13.7)

And… it's back. It's been a long winter, but the community garden is finally up and running again. We don't get to hear about what happens during the next year, or the year after that, or the one after that. But what's your guess about what happens to the garden? Does it keep going through seasonal cycles, and come back every spring? Or do the gardeners eventually abandon it because of tough weather?