Spring 2008 • Vol. XXX No. 2 Nonfiction |

Winding Threads

To see a World in a Grain of Sand And Heaven in a Wild Flower Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand And Eternity in an hour.          —William Blake Eight or nine centuries ago, while Japanese men were laboring, swinging samurai swords against the Mongols, or practicing Zen Buddhism as it began spreading across the land, the women, of course, were tending their homes and children. One day (let's imagine), a mother put down her sewing and wrapped a few stray lengths of thread around some kimono scraps to make a cloth ball for her child. Soon other women began doing the same, glad to use up the bits of fabric that would otherwise go to waste. Eventually, someone thought of putting a tiny rattle inside each ball—an origami box containing rice grains or beads. Someone else wrapped a remnant of cloth around a core of rice hulls to make a tighter, more perfect sphere. Next came contrasting threads that marked lines of longitude, an equator, and finally some dia

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