Friday, June 21, 2019

Half-Baked Spud

Lewiston Clarkston Bridge

Overlooking Lewiston, Idaho

I was born in Lewiston, Idaho – the Potato State – many decades ago but I only stayed there one day. My parents lived briefly in eastern-most Clarkston, Washington, but the only hospital in the area was across the Snake River at western-most Lewiston, Idaho. Both towns were named for the famed explorers of the Lewis and Clark Expedition promoted by the third USA President, Thomas Jefferson. Meriwether Lewis and William Clark camped at the confluence of the Clearwater and Snake rivers in 1805 and again in 1806. Fortunately a bridge was finally built over the Snake to the nearest hospital as my parents hurried across so I could begin my Day One, but at best I can only consider myself a tiny half-baked spud.* After well-over a half century I decided it was due time to return and pay my respects to my birth-place.

*A false origin of the word “spud” was the acronym for the Society for the Prevention of Unwholesome Diet (SPUD), as some felt potatoes shouldn't be eaten. That is clearly nonsense, and more likely the meaning is for a sharp, narrow spade used to dig up potatoes. Its origin is perhaps from Old Norse Spjot for “spear,” or the Latin spad for “sword.”

But first, it is a grueling, though beautiful journey from my home to Boise, the capitol of Idaho. Besides my nostalgia, the purpose of the road-trip was to deliver my 16-year-old daughter to Ballet West in Salt Lake City, Utah, where she will endure a five-week summer intensive. It took us about nine hours to get to Boise but part way there two events stood out: 1) I exited from the freeway to fuel up: “Fill regular please,” I requested from an earnest boy, and he replied, “Yes sir!” Then he jumped on one side of the front window with his cleaning brush while a second kid tackled the other side, and then he scrubbed the front lights as well. That never happens in western Oregon, where the youth are too high and wimpified to accomplish anything. It was clear that the eastern Oregon youths had polished a million windows before, and even on a hot day they were never going to be accused of slacking off. The second memorable event occurred when my Prima refused to get out to eat at a cafe, even though we had left home without breakfast. I crabbed at her, but she said she wasn't “dressed” to go into a restaurant. True, she was wearing a loose sweat-pant-athletic-type of attire, but who cares – “You have a beautiful body and you'll never see anybody here again.” The sixteen-year-old snapped at me: “I'm not going to wear a ball-gown on a long road trip, AM I!” O kkkkkkk... we continued east to Idaho anyway. She is always right, not me, so I have to accept that.

We would spend the night in a city-center Boise hotel, and when we descended our room in a crowded elevator, two more pushed in as well. Two transgender...people were on board, with one being about 6' 2”, 220 pounds with a four-foot long platinum blonde wig. I have nothing against LGBTQ, in fact I think it's best for people to openly be whatever makes them happy, although I'll admit that I've never been within kissing distance of a transgender person. As we exited my youngest daughter teased me that I checked, the person from behind by staring from top to bottom three times. I denied it, but she insisted I did. Later we learned that Boise was abuzz because the next day was Pride Day which explained why we witnessed so many people with rainbow capes, and that there'd be a parade the next day. My 13-year-old is far, far more understanding and accepting than I was at her age, and from that point of view I think the world is improving.

Buchholz couple on left, Anju on right

Petunia 'Blanket Rose Star'

An absolute must when in Boise is to visit Anju Lucas with Edward's Greenhouses Nursery. It was my wife's first time to see her, and afterward H said, “Now I know why you wanted me to meet her.” Besides her buoyant personality, the company is a great customer, and they seem pleased with our product and never once has there been a complaint. What they buy from others is also wonderful, and when H admired a petite, sweet petunia, yes a petunia for heaven sakes! – Anju handed one to her. It became my task to deliver it home alive since my wife was continuing on to SLC with Prima, my youngest was staying in Boise with my oldest daughter while I was going solo into northern Idaho, then cutting diagonally through Washington to make it back to the nursery to administer payday on the due date.

Before leaving Edwards we indulged in their Legacy Garden which Anju designed twenty-some years ago, so she must have been only ten when she designed it. Not much was labelled because it is a garden for enjoyment with nothing for sale, and who wants to see a bunch of distracting metal or plastic labels anyway? The photos above were some of my favorite plants, whatever their identity.

Before leaving Edwards, Anju recruited members of the staff to introduce me. I liked that because it leads to a deeper connection with the company; and let's be clear that they are good, hard-working people. Portland, Oregon has good people too, but I'm pretty sure that Boise* contains a greater number per capita. One thing that is awkward, in fact embarrassing somewhat, is that some of them actually read the Flora Wonder Blog. I never like to visualize the readership because it is primarily a conversation with myself, although I confess that I'm indulgent enough to post it.

*The woods lining the Boise River gave French-Canadian trappers solace after they trudged across arid lands. They named the area Boise meaning “wooded,” and today it is known as “The City of Trees.” The developed parks, paths and green spaces are as impressive as in any city in America.

Sequoiadendron giganteum 'Idaho Champion'

My second purpose in Boise was to see the state's largest “Giant Redwood,” Sequoiadendron giganteum, which was recently moved two blocks away due to a hospital expansion plan. A year ago when I heard about the move I instantly criticized that the hospital should expand elsewhere and leave the champion alone, especially since it was a seedling sent in 1912 by Scottish naturalist John Muir, the founder of The Sierra Club. It would have been cheaper to cut the tree down but the hospital feared a public outcry. A Texas-based company that specializes in moving big trees was enlisted, but this would be their largest move ever, but for $300,000 they were happy to take on the project. A company spokesman estimated the total weight with roots and soil to be 800,000 pounds, nevertheless he put the chances of the tree's survival at 95%. I would have guessed closer to 50%, but I'm not the expert. He explained that “sequoias in their native habitat in California draw moisture from the misty atmosphere and can live for several thousand years...” Obviously his assertion was flawed because he was talking about the “coast redwoods,” Sequoia sempervirens, not the Giant Redwoods from the western slopes of the Sierras. But, he's the expert.

To everyone's relief (including mine) the tree has survived. It will never grow as large in the drier, colder climate of Boise than those in my hometown of Forest Grove, Oregon, but when my daughter drove me to the site I had to tip my hat to the tree-movers. The tree's unusual top was due to damage from Christmas decorations in the 1980's, tree abuse certainly. A wood fence surrounds the redwood to keep people from trampling at its base, but when no one was looking I collected a few cones and hope to germinate the seed. If successful I'll have an indirect connection to Muir who packed the seedlings* himself; of course I like that thought, and I will coin its name Sequoiadendron giganteum 'John Muir'.

*Four seedlings were sent to Emile Grandjean, an employee of the US Forest Service, but two were cut down and the third's demise is unaccounted for. So, the “moved tree” has added historical significance.

Idaho Botanical Garden at Boise

Fagus sylvatica 'Tricolor'

Philadelphus lewisii

Philadelphus lewisii

Linum lewisii

Echinacea angustifolia

Asclepias speciosa

S. then drove me to the Boise Botanic Garden where I have been once before, but this visit would be in early summer, not in autumn as the first time. A number of things impressed me, such as an espalied Fagus sylvatica 'Tricolor'. Abundantly in bloom was Philadelphia lewisii – in the Hydrangeaceae Family. It was first collected on May 6th, 1806 along the Clearwater River, Idaho. I also admired the delicate charm of the “Lewis flax,” Linum lewisii, and also the spidery flowers of Echinacea angustifolia. Asclepias speciosa, “milkweed,” is an attractive perennial in its own right, but it is also the preferred host plant for the monarch butterfly.

The botanic garden is adjacent to the old abandoned prison where one can take an inside tour, but that sounded too dicey, for “once-in, maybe never out?”

Motel Hell

That afternoon I headed north to the aforementioned Lewiston, but I didn't linger with historical signs as I wanted to get there before dark. Finally in town, the glaring 8 o'clock PM sun blinded me through my bug-splattered window and I couldn't find the hotel I was looking for, so I settled on a cheep dive, $49.00 plus tax. My room was west-facing and 150 degrees inside and I was almost ready to forfeit my payment and look elsewhere. Finally, near floor-level I found the air conditioner and turned it on high, and with exhaustion I had no trouble sleeping.

Lewiston hospital

The next morning I found Lewiston to be much more pleasing. I noticed the hospital, Saint Josephs, up on the bluff. Was it one and the same that assisted my mother six decades ago? I guess that I'll consider that it was. I thought about going inside to inquire on its history, but didn't because it was doubtful that anyone at the information desk would be familiar with ancient history. Anyway, enough about me and my autobiography, so I headed north to Moscow, pronounced “moss-ko,” home of the University of Idaho and the U of Idaho Botanic Garden.

Ulmus glabra 'Camperdownii'

Picea pungens in distance

Administration Building

The University campus was very interesting due to a half-dozen specimens of Ulmus glabra 'Camperdownii' in front of one building. “Colorado blue spruce,” Picea pungens, towered close to the Administration building, and I fantasized about myself, perhaps as a student walking past it in my teens should my parents have decided to remain in Idaho years ago.
University of Idaho Arboretum and Botanical Garden

Sequoiadendron giganteum 'Idaho Endurance'

The next morning I met Paul Warnick who was an employee at Buchholz Nursery twenty years ago, but now is Director of Horticulture at the U. of Idaho Arboretum. My particular interest was to see a 100-year-plus Sequoiadendron giganteum that was propagated, and Paul had given me a start five years ago. The original tree has survived neglect and no irrigation, and especially extreme cold on occasion. When I asked “How cold?” Paul responded: “Depends a little on who you believe, but -42 F seems to be a conservative consensus. My memory as a ten year old kid was that it was damn cold. The -30 in 1937 might be as impressive as it was only 21 years old then...” Paul's Idaho Endurance was too crowded with other trees to photograph, so the photo above is my tree now.

Cornus kousa 'Summer Fun'

Paul showed me other trees in the arboretum, and pointed out some from Buchholz Nursery. I was surprised to see our introduction of Cornus kousa 'Summer Fun' for example. In the xeriscape section was a nicely-shaped Pinus edulis, but an even better Pinus monophylla. In fact you could say it had no “character” because it looked like it was perfectly manufactured. Another exciting find was a witches broom mutation on a Larix kaempferi 'Diana', and I imagined a dwarf with twisty foliage. Paul will send me scionwood this winter, and if I succeed, he has decided to name it 'Twisted Sister'. Of course, if I am successful I will send one back to him.

Little Salmon River

Idaho* is a state of fantastic rivers: the Columbia, Snake, Salmon, Little Salmon, and especially the Payette. The latter was wild and churning, and apparently contains the longest stretch of Class 5 rapids in the world. There must have been a thousand rafters or spectators along the river, and I learned later that a race occurred that weekend that draws river-rats from across the country and even Europe. I know because my daughter was one herself, and now she makes a living working for the Boise Parks and Recreation Department where she occasionally leads rafting trips. I reflected that this day demonstrates that everyone has different passions, that some love to raft, some choose to march in a Pride parade, while old Buchholz is into nurseries and botanic gardens.

*The origin of the name Idaho – which has a beautiful sound, better than Orygun – is actually an invented word. A mining lobbyist presented the name to Congress claiming it was a Native American word meaning “Gem of the Mountains,” and indeed Idaho is commonly known as “The Gem State.” Eventually the deception was revealed, but by then the name was in general use. Another theory is that the name means “Land of Many Waters” in the Nez Perce tongue.

Coeur d'Alene

Near the end of my time I decided to head north into Idaho's panhandle, but settled short at Coeur d'Alene which was far south from going completely up to the Canadian border. The French name means “heart of the awl,” and apparently refers to the fact the natives were shrewd traders – but I don't get the connection. When I travel solo for business or pleasure I do so without any music or radio talk. I can't multi-task that way. Actually I'm kind of jealous that myself doesn't get enough time with itself.

C.d.A. is a tourist trap to be sure, but at least it is wholesome, clean, and a fun place, especially for people who love water on a sunny day. I wandered around an enormous water-front park on well-groomed side-walks, and the young, middle and old all seemed to be perfectly happy. Younger women were sparsely dressed, and though attractive, the majority were intent on displaying their free-spirit womanhood, and the chosen media was via their tattoo or tattoos.

Feeling like I should eat, instead of feeling hungry, out of many choices I decided to try the Iron Horse Restaurant. The wait for food was unusually long but I was in no hurry. A middle age man walked by with a parrot on his shoulder, but I had to wonder if he – the parrot, that is – was toilet trained. A group was gathering next to my table, and every time a few more showed up the new arrivals would exclaim, “Happy Father's Day!” As the large family continued to assemble, I heard the greeting at least three more times. I enjoy being completely alone, believe me, but today I envied this happy gathering and I admit that, all alone, I welled up a little.

When my daughter was completely delivered to the Utah West ballet dorm, my wife called and said her plan was to return to Boise to pick up and stay with my youngest daughter. It was nearly dark so I encouraged her to spend the night in SLC and drive the next morning. H. protested, but I insisted – “you'll hit a deer, or something.” She often over-rides my concerns, but when Prima, independent of me, begged her to not drive, H. holed up for the night in a cheap two-star motel. The following morning, when near Twin Falls, Idaho, the car blew up and she nearly caused an accident. Good thing she didn't drive that night after all, or somebody might have been killed. H. was shaking and crying when the rental company showed up with a new car, but still S. & H. made their flight and came home safely. I ended my trip early (after 1,756 miles) because I couldn't relax after her near disaster. My children and I need her obviously, but so does the rest of the world – her light, kindness and energy. When finally together I held her for a long, long time.

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