Of Specks and Seeds

“If you think you are too small to be effective, you have never been in the dark with a mosquito.” –unknown/various attributions

I recently rewatched the animated TV special Horton Hears a Who, some 35 years after I first encountered it, because I wanted to see if a pivotal scene was as I remembered it. Based on the Dr. Seuss book, the DVD has Horton the elephant finding a speck of what appears to be dust, and hearing a voice calling from it. It emerges that the speck is actually a microscopic planet with a whole race of people called the Whos, living in Whoville.

The only one privy to the voice, Horton keeps the speck-planet on a clover blossom and protects it from harm, though his enemies mock him. The voice belongs to a scientist who has built an elaborate machine to carry his voice up through the clouds. Through this apparatus, his voice pierces the planet’s atmosphere and reaches Horton. No one in Whoville believes there’s a world beyond the one they know; no one in Horton’s jungle believes there’s a little world in that speck.

Works as an allegory on so many levels; thank you, Mr. Geisel!

But let’s stick to musing on the power of small things. You know that saying about the mosquito? I’ve thought of numerous corollaries. A splinter. An eyelash out of place. The spark that sets the proverbial forest afire.

Did you know that a little snip of bindweed root in the garden can form an impenetrable mat in the soil, extending roots 30 feet underground?

Or, in a less irritating vein: How about a single seed? Now there’s power.

sunflower seed

Sunflower seed sprouting

In Horton’s case, it turns out that the smallest denizen of Whoville makes the difference. Horton is about to be tortured or possibly killed. The flower will be decimated, the speck lost. The residents of Whoville must make themselves as loud as possible; their fate hinges on being heard. They’re all making as much noise as they can.

The scientist runs through the town, looking for someone who isn’t making noise, someone who could add to the cacophony. He finds a little boy, a toddler really, who is oblivious to Whoville’s peril. He snatches the boy up and implores him to make a sound, any sound, a yap or a yip. The boy deliberates as time ticks and Horton’s antagonists ready his torment. I remember watching this as a child and wanting to yell, Hurry up!

Meanwhile the boy: Should I make a yap? or a yip? Finally, he makes a little yap. The animation has this yap rising into the puffy layer of Seuss’s clouds.

And wouldn’t you know, this is the sound that breaks the barrier. That boy’s tiny little yap punches a hole right in those clouds so all the people’s voices shouting, “We are here, we are here, we are here, we are here!” can stream through and reach the ears of Horton’s disbelieving peers.


3 thoughts on “Of Specks and Seeds

  1. Yes, such a brilliant storyteller. Thanks for your comment, Laura!

    A writer/crafter friend gives another example of the small-but-mighty: “pins and needles, small things that can mend and hold us together.”

  2. Pingback: Lessons from Sugar Man | Shawndra Miller

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