Seed Saver Extraordinaire

Guest Blog by Jim in Clarks Grove

The Seed Saver’s Exchange was started by Kent and Diane Whealy with some seeds that
came from Diane’s grandfather. Kent and Diane realized these seeds would be lost if they didn’t save them and pass them on to other people. The first meeting was held in the Whealy’s home. SSE now has more than 13,000 members with a core group of about 800 who collect, produce and distribute rare seeds to other SSE members. I have been part of SSE for many years and I think makes gardeners more aware of issues related to the breeding and conservation of cultivated plants.

Several years ago I volunteered to write an article about Mary Shultz for an SSE newsletter. Mary was an SSE member with an unusually high dedication to seed saving. I was aware of her efforts from seeing her listings in the SSE Year Book, which is an annual summary of the all the seeds that members are willing to send to other members. Lettuce was her specialty. I have the seed of a few very nice kinds of lettuce that Mary sent to me at my request.

I wanted to interview Mary, but her health had been failing for several years and she wasn’t able to speak on the phone. Fortunately I was able to contact her husband, Arthur, and her daughter, Laurie. They sent me some articles written by and about Mary. The SSE office also shared some of her correspondence. I learned that Mary did all the garden planning. Arthur provided most of the labor. One year they grew 153 kinds of lettuce. They also sold to restaurants where the chefs altered their menus to include these high quality vegetables from Mary and Arthur. One of my favorite kinds of lettuce is a variety called Becker, which I grow using seed sent to me by Mary. A note was included with this seed indicating that Mary thought I should have it because it came from a Minnesota family. I told Laurie that this lettuce seed was an unexpected gift from her mother, and she said Mary was known for doing things like that.

Mary also wrote newspaper articles about gardening, and in one of them she stated that it was her hope that she had been able to encourage others to grow more of their own vegetables and become less dependent on getting them from large scale, highly industrialized farms. In a letter Mary said that she found comfort in her contacts with members of SSE because her great dedication to gardening and seed saving was not understood by most of the people she knew. When I talked to Arthur he said that Mary was still making gardening plans and she had given him a list of things she wanted him to plant.

Mary was in hospice care toward the end of her life and passed away a short time after my article was published. She had a very large and generous personality that matched the large size of her seed collection. I think we can learn a lot from people like Mary who make big efforts to conserve valuable resources and to pass on important information and ideas. Although I don’t expect that I will be able to follow directly in Mary’s footsteps, the example she set has inspired me to continue to add to my seed saving efforts and to expand other work that I value.

How will you pass along what you know?


Guest Blog by Sherrilee

Most of my growing up years were spent in a big city in the Midwest, where the wildlife consisted mostly of squirrels and sparrows. So it was a big deal when we vacationed every summer in the northern part of Wisconsin at the family homestead. We saw deer from the car windows and even the occasional black bear at the town dump. When I was seven, an animal park opened up in St. Croix Falls, which was along the route my family always drove to get to Wisconsin.

Fawn Doe Rosa was (and still is) a place where you can feed and pet a variety of animals, from deer to ponies to geese and ducks. Always looking for a way to break up the long drive to and from up north, I’m sure my parents were delighted to find anything to get us girls out of the car and out of their hair for awhile.

That first year, when I was seven, my sister and I wandered all over the park. Except for dogs and cats, I had never had any interaction with an animal before and was a little leery of the deer, some of whom were bigger than I was. So I opted for the smaller and safer geese and ducks that abounded at the park. At one point, as I was feeding some geese along the little pond, a young elk spotted me.

A Stealthy Approach

Clearly understanding that I was the repository of food, he headed right for me, although I didn’t notice him, so intent was I on my task. My father, who was capturing our day with the camera, snapped a shot as the elk approached me, but didn’t feel the need to warn me. Of course, even though the elk was quite small (as elk go), he did scare me out of my wits and I stepped into the pond and got my feet wet.

It took my mother several minutes to get me to approach the poor elk, who was probably as scared by my antics as I was by his, but was willing to forgive me for my outburst, since I still had food. Within a little bit, I was petting him and feeding him, like he was no more different than the family dog.

Friends for Life

I think about this day often, as the teenager and I still visit Fawn Doe Rosa at least once a summer. What would have been a scarring experience that scared me off animals for a lifetime, turned out to be the beginning of a lifelong love of creatures great and small. We trek out to our two zoos here several times a year, love the Wolf Center in Ely, visit any animal park we find along the way and I believe my love of animals may have rubbed off; the teenager has expressed an interest for a career with animals, although it’s still a little too early to tell.

Has being afraid of anything ever led to something good for you?

Guests in the House

Just one week until our annual pageant of turkey, trimmings and trying to get along with the relatives. I consider Thanksgiving to be the least compromised national holiday, staying closest to its original intent – gratitude – probably because it uses a timeless vehicle of expression – food. No matter what you might try to add to the festivities, it all comes back to a common table and an attitude of thankfulness. Even “Black Friday” pales by comparison.

It's Not Personal.

Now might be a good time to take a nice, long walk with your turkey to explain the beauty and cruelty of the circle of life. This is still one of my favorite pictures in the whole blogging photo album – two friends take a stroll through the woods to commiserate about some impending bad news.

Of course, it’s guests that make Thanksgiving a time for sharing, so during the lead-up to the big day, I’ll be welcoming guest bloggers to Trail Baboon. Madislandgirl, Renee, Joanne, Jim, Sherrilee and tim have agreed to attend this time and they are each bringing a special dish. I won’t give it away completely, but expect lettuce, steak, bird a la grease, a chunk of old barn and one live elk. Mmm!

As always please be kind to our guests. After all, the only difference between you and them is that they volunteered this time. Next time the “cake catastrophe” (Joanne’s) could be on another foot – yours!

And speaking of being a guest writer, I’m making my first post-MPR appearance in another online venue this week with an article in The Line. If you sign up to receive this free, weekly online magazine, they will be forced to conclude that I am a genius. Just put your e-mail address next to the gray box halfway down the right side of the opening page. Simple.

Where are you happiest, as a guest?

Who Dropped the Banana Peel?

As humans, we are surprisingly adept at not noticing things. But just to prove it, researchers occasionally get the funding to conduct wonderfully entertaining studies that prove just how oblivious we can be. One involved getting people half drunk – just enough to miss seeing a stranger in a bear suit, but not quite drunk enough to definitely see Joe Biden in an elephant costume. That’s a fine distinction that’s not easy to duplicate in the lab.

The idea of doing a can-you-see-the-dude-in-an-animal-suit study goes back to a famous trial in 1999, where subjects were asked to count the number of times the people wearing white passed the basketball. Here’s the video:

Half the participants in the study didn’t see the simian. The conclusion drawn from this is that people misjudge their own ability to notice significant, unexpected events while they are are concentrating on a task. It’s called “Inattentional Blindness”.

As far as I can figure, this type of blindness is inattentional, unintentional, and surprisingly conventional. No matter how you re-arrange that sentence, it’s fun to say, although most people will totally miss it if you try to make it a punch line.

A couple of weeks ago, I took my wife’s Toyota to the priciest, slickest car wash in our part of town – the closest thing we have to a spa for automobiles. I signed the vehicle up for an exterior / interior makeover. On the outside it got a nice thorough cleaning and a thick coat of wax. On the inside, it was given the brisk but professional attention of a swarm of guys with vacuums and polishing cloths. It’s not as indulgent as sending the thing off to a luxury retreat in the Sonoran Desert for a crude oil bath and new-car-smell aromatherapy, but if I were a 2009 coupe, I would feel rejuvenated.

Of course, if I were an automobile that incorporated even a few of my human personality traits, I would be the subject of a very expensive lawsuit right now.

When I walked out into the drying-off area to re-claim the vehicle, I noticed the emergency flashers had been turned on. “Nice touch”, I thought. “They’re concerned about safety.” Plus, it gave the impression to everyone nearby that something significant had just happened. When I slid behind the wheel I couldn’t immediately see how to turn the flashers off and more cars were coming out of the wash line behind me, so I drove out to the street and parked, blinking all the way.

It's in this area ... somewhere.

Looking over the dashboard, I checked the area around the radio, near the temperature controls, all the way down the console to the gearshift. Nothing. I tried the stalks on either side of the steering column. One controlled the lights, the other the windshield washers. Nope. I looked around the cruise control buttons, the instrument cluster, overhead where the sunroof switches are located. No emergency flasher button. Weird. By its very nature of being a necessary feature in times of stress, the emergency button should be easy to find. I looked at all the places again and again with the same result each time. I pulled out the owners manual and found no listing under “Emergency” or “Warning”. I looked through the “lights” section. I checked out the dashboard illustration. Why weren’t they telling me anything about the dang flashers?

Time was running out. The car was due back at home ten minutes ago, but I didn’t want to drive it with my blinkers going, so I swallowed my pride and walked back up to the car wash exit where the same platoon of guys were busily polishing and drying off the next and the next in an endless stream of vehicles.

“You guys turned on my emergency flashers,” I yelled to a manger-type over the sound of the mechanical drying equipment, “and I know I should be able to find the switch, but I can’t.”

He didn’t roll his eyes, but I could tell he wanted to.

Hidden in Plain Sight

We walked out to the car. He opened the door, reached in, and without looking, tapped a HUGE button in the middle of the dashboard. The button bore a mammoth red triangle large enough to post as a warning sign on the back of an Amish mega-bus.

I laughed out loud at the absurdity of it all, and thanked him. He said nothing, and just walked away, shaking his head. “Jerk,” I thought. “I just gave you a great story about a numbskull with inattentional blindness, and for this I get no gratitude.”

Now that I think back on it, he might have been wearing a gorilla suit.

When have you suffered from Inattentional Blindness?

Boom! Uh-Oh!

Here’s the latest bit of rambling thought-rain from perennial sophomore Bubby Spamden.

Hey Mr. C.,

I think I already told you that I’m under a lot of pressure to make some decisions about my life from here on out. People are making a big deal out of me picking a career and getting ready to live a life outside Wendell Wilkie High School. As if that’s something worth doing!

Anyway, I’m wondering if you know anybody in the Blowing Up Buildings Industry. I’ve been watching all these cool videos on You Tube and it looks like there’s a never-ending supply of buildings and stuff that need to get exploded. It would be really neat to have a BUBI job, since my name is Bubby and it would seem like I was born to do it.

And I really have a knack for this kind of work.

I first started thinking about it last week when I saw that cool/scary video of the smokestack in Ohio that fell the wrong way and came way too close to whipping people with live power lines. Good thing nobody was hurt! Here’s the video of you haven’t seen it yet.

And here’s the thing that really hooked me – a fond look back at some of the greatest explosions of 2002.

I could watch that all day! The Blowing Up Buildings Industry is a place where I think I could be happy! There are a couple of conditions any job would have to meet before I would consider taking a specific offer.

1) I wouldn’t want to work on any projects that go wrong like that because it would be a really crummy feeling to be accountable for bad stuff happening. That’s a very stressful place to be, mentally. So any job I get would have to be with the absolute best company in the entire worldwide BUBI, and I would have to always be free of any real responsibility for what happens once gravity takes over.

2) I don’t really like explosives too much because they’re so … y’know. Violent. So no direct handling of dynamite and stuff for me.

3) And dealing with smoke and dust and stuff is really a drag. A lot of times I feel short of breath, especially when Heather walks by, and that’s just too unsettling and scary. So I’d have to make sure my BUBI job was always upwind from the debris cloud.

4) And I’m not really into math or science, so you can count me out of any jobs that ask for a lot of figuring and head scratching. Besides, getting the math right connects you directly to responsibility. (see item 1).

Mostly I’d like to watch things fall down from a safe upwind distance. Maybe some kind of PR job is right for me? What do you think? If I list you as a reference, will you put in a good word for me?

Your friend,

I told Bubby that given his list of conditions, I couldn’t really get on board with the idea of endorsing him as a valuable worker anywhere in the worldwide BUBI. And besides, it looks like the one thing he’s best at blowing up is any chance he has of ever being hired by anybody.

His best opportunity might come in the interstellar version of the same business. “Watching things fall down from a safe upwind distance” is exactly what astronomers are doing with regard to Supernova 1979C, an implosion project that happened 50 million years ago.

Have you ever watched something being demolished?

Ask Dr. Babooner

Dear Dr. Babooner,

Recently I accepted a co-worker’s invitation to go to a lunch buffet that she had raved about, but when I went down the line of offerings I didn’t see anything even remotely appetizing.

The restaurant featured the cuisine of a foreign country, so I didn’t want to appear disrespectful. I took a few of the less threatening items, but other delicacies looked absolutely prehistoric, like a paleontologist’s research project rather than a main dish.

My friend is enthusiastic about sharing her passions and seems unable to comprehend the possibility that others don’t feel the same way about it, so when she saw that I wasn’t selecting very much, she began spooning random servings onto my plate over my polite, but (to me) intense objections.

In “Weirdfoodistan”, she said brightly, “this is their custom! A good and generous hostess makes sure her guest gets the best and most of everything!”

Sitting at the table in front of this mountain of horrifying food that I was expected to eat, I committed an act of desperation – I faked an illness and pretended to pass out.

An ambulance was called and I was taken to the hospital and examined. They couldn’t find anything wrong with me, which complicated the matter and forced the hospital to keep me overnight. I missed work for two days, sympathy cards appeared on my desk the following week and I was charged $500 through my health insurance for the emergency services and some x-rays. I know that more bills are on the way.

Now this co-worker jokes about the incident and has asked me to go back there again to “finish the lunch we started”. But at these prices, I know I can’t afford it. Ever. How can I say ‘no’ in a way that is respectful and permanent?

Mystery Meat Mortifies Me

I told MMMM one should never pretend to have a specific illness. Why? Real illness is always too close for comfort, and “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” is a famous story for a good reason. While good-hearted people have an infinite supply of sympathy for those who are suffering, it is possible to use up your personal portion if you appear to be greedy.

Also, actually having an illness is the thing that makes you an expert on all its symptoms and treatments. If you are pretending, it will only take a few questions to expose your deceit. That’s why, when faced with frighteningly exotic food, I claim I am on a “special diet”. Here’s the key – say as little as possible about it.

“I can only eat tortilla chips and cashew nuts. Sorry. I’d rather not talk about it. It’s between me and my doctor.”

The lack of specifics will immunize you against the accusation that you are a liar, and you’ll earn bonus points for discretion.

But that’s just one person’s advice. What do YOU think, Dr.Babooner?

Things Left Under The Snow

Thanks for the robust conversation yesterday. Obviously a snow day is good for at least one indoor activity – reading and posting comments on blogs!

Barbara in Robbinsdale sent this picture yesterday. It combines two recent themes – ladders and snow. (A terribly dangerous combination, Bathtub Safety Officer Rafferty would say.) It took this recent sequence of posts to open tim’s eyes to how rich he is in ladderage. Yesterday he reported owning two 8 foot ladders, a 16 footer, two 24 footers, a 36, and a 46. That’s 138 feet of ladders, or 46 yards, stretching about halfway down a football field, if you laid them end-to-end. But it would be crazy to do that. They’d be covered up with snow, and the football players would trip over them.

I found myself wishing I had put up Christmas lights and taken down birdbaths and the sundial while I watched the flakes swirl. The Twin Cities forecast includes temperatures above freezing every day for the next week, so there will be melting and a second chance to bring stuff inside.

What treasures did you leave under the snow?

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