I have Faith in a Seed

I think of the seeds every day. They’re locked away in their envelopes, in Ziploc bags, in a large cookie tin, in the cold basement. Held within these many layers, deprived of light, water and warmth and temperature fluctuations, they are kept suspended.


I am rereading Thoreau’s Dispersion of Seeds. It was published for the first (and so far only time) in 1993, in a lovely volume called Faith in a Seed.

Thoreau was writing around 1860, when most people in the States believed that plants spring up spontaneously, not from a root or a cutting or a seed. It’s so hard for us to imagine that people ever thought such a thing. But Thoreau could, though he was one of the few arguing against it (this was part of his larger, Darwinian argument against Agassiz’s “immutable species”).

Thoreau drew this interesting comparison between the American vs. the European idea of a seed.  He writes (on page 1):

We are so accustomed to see another forest spring up immediately, as a matter of course, when one is cut down… never troubling ourselves about the succession, that we hardly associate seeds with trees, and we do not anticipate the time when this regular succession will cease and we shall be obliged to plant, as they do in all old countries. The planters of Europe must therefore have a different and much more correct notion of the value of seeds than we… we know only that [trees] come out of the earth when we cut them down, as regularly as the fur grows on the hides of animals after the summer has thinned it.

Old country versus new country, a place where man has to plant versus a place where Nature sows… I came to this country ten years ago and I live constantly with this Old-New comparison. Look around you, is your America still that New World? Or has it become Old?

What a privilege, what good luck, to be able to read this text!

I have faith in a seed too. The seeds in my basement seem dead, but I believe they will live and flourish. I believe that nature is forgiving. If I make a little mistake, I believe she will correct it. If I make a big one, she will give me another chance, here, in my New World.

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