Sunflower-bordered roads

February 21, 2004 | one comment
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Nate’s post on landscape and the excellent comments there put me in mind of another favorite Mormon bit of literary loveliness, from Willa Cather’s My Antonia:

“All the years that have passed have not dimmed my memory of that first glorious autumn. The new country lay open before me: there were no fences in those days, and I could choose my own way over the grass uplands, trusting the pony to get me home again. Sometimes I followed the sunflower-bordered roads. Fuchs tole me that the sunflowers were introduced into that country by the Mormons; that at the time of the persecution, when they left Missouri and struck out into the wilderness to find a place where they could worship God in their own way, the members of the first exploring party, crossing the plains to Utah, scattered sunflower seed as they went. The next summer, when the long trains of wagons came through with all the women and children, they had the sunflower trail to follow. I believe that botanists do not confirm Fuch’s story, but insist that the sunflower was native to those plains. Nevertheless, that legend has stuck in my mind, and sunflower-bordered roads always seem to me the roads to freedom.”

I think this passage almost perfectly captures a certain wistfulness about history which is common to many versions of Mormon history, the nostalgia for a mythic past, the elegaic aggrandizing of what was heroic, but a little too gritty and human for our epic desires. Virginia Sorenson can do this, too, and Maureen Whipple sometimes–evoke that nostalgia while unmasking it for what it is. Are there contemporary Mormon writers who do it?

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One Response to Sunflower-bordered roads

  1. Steve Evans on February 23, 2004 at 1:54 am

    As I recall, isn’t there a horse named Brigham in My Antonia as well?

    I love Willa Cather. I just finished O Pioneers! and loved it. But the sense of nostalgia (in its most positive sense) that she captures so well isn’t present in Mormon lit I’ve read. Why not? We’re entitled to it, I think. Maybe it’s because we lack authors capable of walking the line between nostagia and saccharin.