Air Date: Week of November 2, 2007
Whirlybirds (Maple Seeds) (Photo: Flickr/Greenhem)
Writer Tom Montgomery-Fate ponders falling maple seeds and Henry David Thoreau’s words.
GELLERMAN: Writer Tom Montgomery-Fate recently decided to re-read Henry David Thoreau’s classic journal “Walden.“ But it wasn’t until Montgomery-Fate closed the book and began to wander through a nearby meadow that he was able to fully appreciate the meaning of the words.
MONTGMERY-FATE: On a cool, sunny afternoon, I sit in a small cabin in the woods reading Walden. The long, winding streams of words sparkle with insight. But after riding the raft of Thoreau’s consciousness for several hours I lose track of where it’s going. I know that’s the point—the journey matters, not the destination—but on page 154 I get snagged on this long sentence:
‘In our most trivial walks we are constantly, though unconsciously, steering like pilots by certain well-known beacons and headlands, and not 'til we are completely lost or turned around—for a man needs only to be turned around once with his eyes shut in this world to be lost—do we appreciate the vastness and strangeness of nature.’
I sit down in the dry grass and try to watch the flight of one individual seed. But I can’t do it. I’m lost in the awe of the whirling multitude, and in the whoosh and whistle of the wind, which has blown into a surprising gale. It is here, amid the timeless language of wind and seed, I understand Thoreau's words––that by steering through the ‘vastness and strangeness’ of nature with an open eye and ear, I can wake up and trust the quiet faith of a maple tree and a thousand whirling prayers.
GELLERMAN: Tom Montgomery-Fate teaches writing at the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. His most recent book is a memoir “Steady and Trembling.”
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