Faith in a Seed

Faith in a Seed by Henry David Thoreau

Faith in a Seed

Henry D. Thoreau, Edited by Bradley P. Dean

“Convince me that you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders.”

In 1862, after Thoreau’s passing at the age of forty-four, Emerson said of his friend Henry, “The country knows not yet, or in the least part, how great a son it has lost.” Today we have a better sense of how great a loss it was to have such a promising life cut short. We also have a glimpse, thanks in great part to Bradley Dean, of how much more Thoreau had to share.

Bradley Dean, whose life was also tragically cut short at the age of fifty-one, devoted much of his life to the study of Thoreau. He spent years poring over the treasury of notes and unfinished works Thoreau left behind, editing three of Thoreau’s books, two of which were previously unpublished, including Faith in a Seed. Dean is in fact responsible for carrying on much of the work that was most important to Thoreau.

As Robert Richardson details in the introduction to Faith in a Seed, Thoreau had accumulated thousands and thousands of pages of notes and comments on the natural history he had read, as well as his own detailed observations of the natural world. Thoreau’s passionate obsession with the living creatures that surrounded him, during his time at Walden Pond and throughout his life in Concord, drove him to a project that only the most ardent naturalist would dream of undertaking.

“Thoreau began a massive re-reading of all this material with the specific purpose of listing all the natural phenomena in Concord and the order in which they appeared each year. He made a list of which fruits ripen on what day during one month of one specific year; then he made a similar list for the same month of the next year and so on. He made a list of the first appearances of birds for each of the years 1852 to 1861. Another set of lists record the sequence in which trees and shrubs leafed out in the spring. Still other lists – hundreds of pages of them – recorded sightings of quadrupeds, of reptiles, of fishes, of insects, and of flowers. . . He seems to have been working toward a grand calendar of Concord, the fullest possible account of a natural year in his hometown.”

Though Thoreau left no clear evidence of his exact plan for the mountain of material he had amassed, he would no doubt be thrilled with the results of Bradley Dean’s painstaking efforts. He would certainly be thrilled with Faith in a Seed, which is a continuing celebration of Thoreau’s unique love affair with everything that lives and breathes. “Convince me that you have a seed there,” he said, “and I am prepared to expect wonders.”

This wonderful book, in addition to prolonging the pleasure we have experienced in Walden and other Thoreau writings, actually inspired us to note the precise day our favorite mulberry tree chooses to drop all of its leaves, which it does rather remarkably all in one day each year. We now watch for that day, compare the date to earlier years, and think of Thoreau each time. Faith in a Seed is a treasure for all lovers of nature and all admirers of nature’s most eloquent emissary, Henry David Thoreau.

The Gleam of Light Team

Faith in a Seed
Henry D. Thoreau
Edited by Bradley P. Dean / Foreword by Gary Paul Nabhan / Introduction by Robert D. Richardson, Jr
1993, Island Press

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