Monday, March 19, 2007

Thoreau's Wild Fruits

I was at the University Bookstore today, buying my Ukrainian dyes for my annual Magical Egg Dyeing party, and I found on the bargain book table, a copy of Wild Fruits, by Henry David Thoreau. I remember reading about this book, I think in Michael Pollan's Botany of Desire. It was the last manuscript on which Thoreau worked, and I was amazed to discover that it sprang from the same impulse that drove me, nearly a year ago, to begin my blog, in which I hoped to learn about a plant a day.

It seems that after completing his first two books, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, and Walden, Thoreau was casting about for something new to write. He became interested in botany, began gathering plant specimens and keeping a journal of his observations. He sometimes referred to his project as his "Kalendar."

He wrote:
I remember gazing with interest at the swamps . . . and wondering if I could ever attain to such familiarity with plants that I should know the species of every twig and leaf in them . . . Though I knew most of the flowers, and there were not in any particular swamp more than half a dozen shrubs that I did not know, yet these made it seem like a maze to me, of a thousand strange species, and I even thought of commencing at one end and looking at it faithfully and laboriously through till I knew it all.

It was this same sense of moving through green mysteries, as I was walking around my urban neighborhood, that started me on my plant-a-day project, that has become a flower-a-week project.
From what I have seen (I have just skimmed through it), Thoreau's entries are like my blog entries. He mentions a plant, makes a few notes about where he has seen it and on what dates, and fills in with any information he's gleaned about the plant.

Bradley Dean of the Thoreau Institute who wrote the Introduction calls Wild Fruits the final harvest of Thoreau's work, presenting his "sacramental vision of nature--a vision compelling in part because it grew out of an approach to the natural world at once scientific and mystical."

That's the integration I'm searching for in my own work. So I'm excited by the prospect of reading Thoreau's notes and following in his footsteps. I'm still trying to think of a clever title, like Julie and Julia (the blog which became a wonderful book chronicling the adventures of a young woman named Julie cooks every recipe from Julia Child's Art of French Cooking cookbook over one year) to herald this new collaboration between me and Thoreau. If you can think of one, let me know.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for this lovely recitation of daffodil lore.

debi said...

Thanks so much for mentioning this book. I just purchased it on your recommendation and am enjoying "studying" it.