Richard Horan
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Buy *Seeds: One Man's Serendipitous Journey to Find the Trees That Inspired Famous American Writers from Faulkner to Kerouac, Welty to Wharton* by Richard Horan online

Seeds: One Man's Serendipitous Journey to Find the Trees That Inspired Famous American Writers from Faulkner to Kerouac, Welty to Wharton
Richard Horan
Harper Perennial
384 pages
April 2011
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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When Richard Horan and his family toured Abraham Lincoln’s home in Springfield, Illinois, Horan noted that one of the trees on the property was the same tree shown in a photograph of Lincoln. For no particular reason, Horan picked up a few of the seeds that had fallen beneath the basswood. From there, collecting seeds from various trees connected to historically important people and places became something of an obsession.

Writers, in particular, owe much to their trees. After all, that’s where the paper comes from -- and where would the written word be without it? Horan shows his appreciation by making “a solemn oath to the trees to write only what is necessary, for every page of printed material is a precious piece of wood flesh…. There is much to be written, but there is far more to be revered.”

Not every location yielded a perfect collection point, however. Trees grow old and die, or are lost to natural disasters or to the vision of landscape planners. Horan’s first disappointment came on his visit to the Jack Kerouac Commemorative Park, where he found only a few excerpts from the novels inscribed on granite columns. “There was nothing Kerouacian about the park… All the trees were newly planted.” Lowell, Massachusetts was not overly Kerouacian, either, and so Horan moved on to Pawtucketville where he eventually settled for silver maple seeds that sprang from a tree somewhere in the vicinity of a place where Kerouac may have enjoyed a brief residence.

The story was repeated in many places as Horan sought out the significant trees of Henry Miller, John Muir, Shirley Jackson, Carson McCullers, and dozens of other American legends. Standing on the battlefield of Gettysburg, Horan remarks “I could feel the history oozing out of the ground… This thought gave rise to the idea that there are certain places on this earth destine for infamy.”

It’s that sort of awe and fancy that make Seeds an endearing tale of one man’s whimsical adventures in literature and history. The witness trees, as Horan calls them, are seldom contemporaries of the lives they represent to him, but a deeper connection exists. “The lives and deeds of our heroes cannot be replicated by institutions. Only the joys and creativity of our own imaginations do that.”

Horan’s imagination brings life to the trees he seeks out, but also to the historic figures that are, for the most part, lacking from their official commemoratives. As Seeds develops, the author shares both his subjective views on the parks and docents and plaques alongside the objective facts about authors he reveres that are sometimes disturbing but always illuminating.

Seeds covers an unusual and, as far as I know, completely original topic. Horan mixes it up, supplying the reader his own open-hearted journey to honor the writers he admires. It’s a gentle read, spreading itself out like the branches of a sturdy oak that welcomes curiosity and admiration while offering shelter to dreamers.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Deborah Adams, 2011

buy *Seeds: One Man's Serendipitous Journey to Find the Trees That Inspired Famous American Writers from Faulkner to Kerouac, Welty to Wharton* online
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