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The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture does not promote, support
or recommend plants featured in "Plant of the Week." Please consult your local Extension
office for plants suitable for your region.
Change is the stuff of life. It offers renewal, redirection, reflection and a chance
to refocus. I’m at one of those junctures where I decided it was time to embrace change
and head off in a new direction. I have been doing the Plant of the Week columns for
the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture Cooperative Extension Service
since 1997 and have enjoyed the opportunity to learn more about the plant world and
the people involved with it. But it is time for a change.
My new direction for these musings is to broaden my scope and focus on all aspects
of nature and the natural world, not just plants. Like most gardeners, my embrace
of the natural world is not limited to just plants but includes everything from bugs
to boulders. Those who have followed me for a while know I’ve often strayed from the
plant based format, but now I give myself full reign to delve more widely into things
that arouse my curiosity.
By way of introduction, let me mention Earl Scruggs informed us that we can’t “get
above our raisin’.” I was raised the forth son (of eight children) of an Oklahoma
wheat farmer and came of age in the turbulent 1960s. Though I appreciated the sensitivities
of the hippies of my day, I was still the son of an Oklahoma wheat farmer. I tell
people I served in the same unit as Bill Clinton, going to graduate school (University
of Maryland) instead of Viet Nam. In 1974 the Horticulture department at the UofA
had a job splitting my time between teaching and Extension, so I settled in. After
retirement I volunteered and then worked at the Botanical Garden of the Ozarks here
in Fayetteville for the next decade.
Part of the change I mentioned involves travel. I’ve always enjoyed travel and have
been lucky enough to do a fair amount of it, but my plans now include a bit more free-wheeling
embrace of the journey. With the passing of my wife, Jolene, last winter and the purchase
of a small utility van this spring, my dog Whinny and I are off to explore. While
the blue highways Least Heat-Moon talks about in his first book will take me away
from Arkansas, I will attempt to relate what I see and experience back to the place
I have called home for the past almost 50 years.
Traveling with Whinny, my 3-year-old labradoodle whose real name is Winston but I
renamed because he’s big as a horse, presents a special set of challenges. First,
he’s a bed hog and a very sound sleeper, so I find myself yielding to him instead
of the other way around. Second, I remember Philip Martin’s (the movie/style editor
for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette) admonition a few years back that when you start
writing about your dog, you’ve run out of things to say. I’ll watch that but, he’s
a good boy, a very good boy.
Travelogues have always intrigued me, especially the writings of the plant explorers
such as Wilson, Fairchild, Fortune, Ward and Darwin’s Voyage of the Beagle are favorites because they meld natural history in with the exotic places they visited.
Steinbeck’s Travels with Charlie and Least Heat-Moon’s Blue Highways are more about discovering America than unearthing nature, but they embody the spirit
of spontaneous discovery I hope to find as I travel about.
I have no idea what I will learn on this voyage of discovery. Were it known, I guess
the trip would be unnecessary. While nature will be the central focus of this new
series of columns, I will try to include some social and cultural context because
the web of life is one interconnected whole. We’re in this together – the minor and
the mighty – so nature cannot be considered in isolation. I look forward to this road
trip and the opportunity to share the things I see in coming columns. Stay tuned.
This summer I’m exploring the mountains from Idaho to Arizona.
Explore the Musings on Nature Blog
Gerald Klingaman, a retired extension horticulturist and operations director for the
Botanical Garden of the Ozarks in Fayetteville, Arkansas, has created a library of
hundreds of plant histories that run in newspapers across the state and have become
a favorite of gardeners in Arkansas and beyond. We hope you'll enjoy our extensive
archive of his works and return each week to see what's new.