Mustard flowers are one of the early signs of spring in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Almost overnight, our highways are bordered by silken carpets of golden yellow flowers that wave “Hi!” as we drive by. We sit up and notice for the first time of the year that the hills have turned green, the blue skies have chased away gray ones, the air is decidedly less chilly and new growth is emerging from bare tree limbs. The barren winter landscape of the region is now a riot of color from highway ice plant blooms laying down Persian carpets in the circular meadows of clover leaf interchanges, from dainty poppies and wild flowers on the hill sides, from the huge pink flowers of magnolias in home lots, from multi-hued blossoms that completely cover fruit trees in orchards, from brightly smiling lilies everywhere, and, last but not the least, from a greater abundance of that one flower which is most appropriate for our region, Birds of Paradise.
But it is the humble mustard that leads this spring time parade.
Mustard seeds are a common presence in legends from many lands, perhaps because they are a common condiment in many cuisines. In a famous fable, the Buddha promises to bring back to life an only child, if only the mother could get a handful of mustard from a home where no one has died. The frenzied mother hurries off to find that house, very sure that there are many homes in the village that death has not yet touched, and that her precious child will be alive again very soon. Sure enough, she learns on her own, the universality of death and returns to the Wise one a much wiser and calmer woman.
Even though its seed is the smallest among seeds, mustard plants grow to a fairly good size, demonstrating how the inspiration of sunshine and the support of fertile soil makes the mighty power of life emerge from a tiny seed. Perhaps that is the reason why Jesus mentioned the humble mustard in this verse: “What is the kingdom of God like? To what can I compare it? It is like a mustard seed that a person took and planted in the garden.
When it was fully grown, it became a large bush and the birds of the sky dwelt in its branches.” That saying captures the miraculous ability of Life to grow a miniscule seed into large, robust structures. Isn’t it incomprehensibly miraculous that a mere clot of blood, an embryo that is tinier than the humble mustard seed, with neither senses nor features, grows into a human being that is seemingly in control of his or her own destiny?
There are many scriptural writings that mention common household substances like mustard, yeast or salt; smidgens of matter with a potential to infuse a greater mass with effervescence and flavor. It is the powerful symbolism of common salt that Mahatma Gandhi picked to activate India for a mighty freedom struggle, a struggle that was as unique in its spiritual themes of fasting and prayer as in its adherence to the principles of non-violence. Gandhiji’s salt march was a 240 miles journey from his Sabarmati ashram in Ahmedabad, Gujarat to the coastal town of Dandi where he picked up a grain of salt to signal the beginning of a very vigorous yet non-violent resistance movement. The salt march was the seed from which emerged a mighty revolution that brought about India’s independence.
As spring gives way to summer in the Bay Area, the mustard flowers and other bountiful blossoms transform into seeds that will perhaps disperse far away from their place of origin. The last few summers have also brought to the Bay Area, an equally colorful but more subtle seeding act than Nature’s, which has global as well as local impact. For the past four years, India Community Center in Milpitas has been hosting an event that attempts to replicate Gandhiji’s transformative salt march, albeit for a shorter distance than the original. Thousands of Bay Area residents of many different nationalities, not just Indians, congregated for a day of running and walking to raise funds for their favorite non-profit cause. This event is “Sevathon,” a half-marathon (also 5K/10K walk or run) for Seva (service). The non-profits cover a wide range of causes including the Arts (Pampa Dance Company), Education (Isha Vidhya), Environment (Climate Healers), Health Care (Shri Shankara Cancer Foundation), Nutrition (Akshaya Patra) and many others.
Will you join this multi-colored parade this year to help seed a worthy cause dear to you? Please register at http://konnectme.org/sevathon-2013.
Jojy Michael is a Silicon Valley resident who is fascinated with the contrasts that the Bay Area offers—natural beauty, world class technology, diverse cultures, amicable weather and the generous spirit of its people.