SEEDS – One Man’s Serendipitous Journey to Find the Trees That Inspired Famous American Writers from Faulkner to Kerouac, Welty to Wharton is one of the most unique books I’ve ever read. In 2001 while on a family vacation, author Richard Horan discovered a tree that had likely been planted by Abraham Lincoln. This event inspired Horan to consider trees and people and how trees affect people. Later on his vacation, while on the grounds of Graceland, Horan had a self-described epiphany. He would “travel across America to gather the seeds from the trees of great Americans who had influenced my life or the course of American history.” In this book, he describes forty-five such encounters. Some of my favorite essays were on his visits to the homes and trees of Mark Twain, John Muir, Rachel Carson, Helen Keller, and Thoreau’s Walden Pond. Even after he wrote his acknowledgements, Horan’s quest continues. Still on his list – Vonnegut, Poe, Hawthorne, Dickinson, Whitman, Fred Rogers and several dozen others.
Horan’s initial plan was only to try to grow new trees from the seeds he gathered, and plant them in a plot of land or give them away as unique gifts. But when a publishing friend visited his home and discovered Horan’s hobby, he said, “You’re going to write a book.”
This could have been a simple travel memoir, yet Horan’s beautifully-written narrative reads like poetry. In response to a particular grove of trees, he writes, “I treaded softly, listening to every sound, eyeing every tree, allowing the essence of their sylvan souls to enter me and lighten my load.” His similes ring fresh and uniquely visual. In reference to Big Sur, he describes the Pacific coastline “like the toothless gums of an ancient jaw” and the grand Redwoods as “footless legs of Titans.” His San Francisco sun is like “celestial honey.”
Horan’s journey often inspires him to write philosophically. Upon visiting The Krishnamurti Foundation of America’s Pepper Tree Retreat and Education Center, in Ojai, California, he writes, “We keep missing the point, despite divine intervention from our patron saints. On the well-paved road to life, we’re all hunched over the wheel, traveling at a high rate of speed, following the red taillights of the cars in front of us, hell-bent on some distant destination. Life is not up ahead of us in the windshield, nor is it behind us in the rear-view mirror. It’s here and now, in the car, on the road as we go, fast or slow.”
I highly recommend SEEDS for readers who love trees, travel, history, and literary heroes. I have always loved trees, but I may never look at them the same way again.