The Cactus Patch
Volume 12       February 2009      Number 2

A Peripatetic New Year
A Letter From Bruce
by Bruce Hargreaves

We began the New Year in Fresno at a party hosted by Polly’s sister Martha. Next Day we watched the Rose Parade on TV and exchanged Christmas presents at another sister Nancy’s. I got a book titled Her Stories by Virginia Hamilton (1995, Blue Sky Press, N.Y.). Some are similar to the Uncle Remus stories except that all of them are about women. I never understood why a matriarchal society used a male story teller although he’s obviously related to the Caribbean Aunt Nancy which is a name related to Anansi the Spider of West Africa who “owns” all tales. The book is beautifully illustrated.

Another present which I received earlier from my brother Robert was a 100 billion dollar bill from Zimbabwe. It expired on 1st Jan.! This expiring money is indicative of the major problems in Mugabe’s country. I was astounded when he tried to deny the Cholera epidemic. But I should have been prepared. Others have tried to deny the reality of disease. When I started as a parasitologist at the University of Malawi in 1976, I learned that my predecessor had had all her research on bilharzia confiscated because they wanted to hide this disease as it would discourage tourism. I found a backpacker’s guide to Africa recently which had an insert stating that their earlier statement that Malawi was bilharzia free was wrong.

Back in Bakersfield we saw The Beverly Hills Chihuahua, a rather silly Disney film which traces a dog’s journey back home from Mexico. The geography is quite confused. From a section of the Mojave transported to Mexico, the movie goes north to overgrown Mayan ruins full of Chihuahuas ruling in their “native” home!

We returned to Fresno on the 8th for the CSS meeting which featured Ernesto Sandoval of Davis who showed us great pictures of Western South Africa and Namibia. We again returned to Bakersfield for the CSS meeting on the 13th which featured Jack’s meteorite collection. One may wonder about the succulent connection, but there is one! It wasn’t brought out, but it is believed that the Asteroid which landed in the Yucatan 65 million years ago caused the extinction of Dinosaurs. This in turn freed flowering plants from major consumption and allowed the great variation (including succulents) we see today. (Of course this is all speculation.)

On 16th Jan. we went to the Ontario Conference Center for a quilt show called “The Road to California”. I did not expect many succulents, but even the parking lot had minute crassulas. Right off I found a picture puzzle based on the “Cactus Flower” quilt pattern. Also in the commercial booths was a kit for making a Christmas Cactus quilt bordered with poinsettias. Polly was amazed at how expensive the South African indigo prints were. She should have filled our luggage with them! We also found cloth from East and West Africa. We bought a little, but couldn’t afford all we wanted. In the competition section there were only two quilts with succulents: a bull looking disgustedly at a prickly pear and a “Geranium” fairy on a flower that looked more like a Pelargonium.

That evening we stayed with my nephew Leo in La Mirada. It was his son Elijah’s 2nd birthday and everyone was busy setting up an elaborate party for the next day. The theme was trains based on Thomas the Tank Engine.

On the 17th we went to the Huntington Gardens which was open to succulentophiles. It was cool enough to actually enjoy the green house, but it was a bit crowded. (The crowd included three of us from Bakersfield and another three from Fresno.) At one point there was a loud crash, but by the time I could get to that end of the greenhouse, the broken pot was cleaned up. It held a hybrid of Euphorbia obesa and E. ferox which needed repotting anyway. Outside there were spectacular beds of Aloes in bloom. After wearing out our feet in the desert garden we went over to the propagation houses for lunch. We then took in shows including a history of science which included an original book on astronomy by Ptolemy which is the oldest book in the Huntington Library. There were great plants for sale. Anne got the best: for $10 a cactus with succulent buttercups and a beady Senecio. I bought a book on Darwin by the New York Botanic Garden (Darwin’s Garden, 2008, $17.99). Although Darwin claimed he was a geologist and not a botanist, the book had many examples of his botanic work, including a sketch of a Galapagos Opuntia.

We retuned to La Mirada for the tail end of the birthday party and next day went to the Doo Dah Parade in Pasadena. The spectators often outdid the marchers in this anything goes event. One interesting feature was the dogs. They had both marching dachshunds and basset hounds. Although Polly and I had chairs at a sidewalk restaurant (Bar Celona) by ordering soup and salad and Anne sat on her Raggedy Anne blanket, we had even more exhausted feet by the time we got back to Bakersfield.

Next day we relaxed while watching programs on Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement. This brought back memories of the 60s when we played our own minor role in the movement. On Tuesday we went to the Fox and watched the inauguration on the big screen. It was exciting to feel the audience reaction even in conservative Bakersfield. In many ways this is a culmination of the 60s! The parade was a totally different genre from the two seen earlier in the month.

Polly & Anne with Indigo

Bruce & Fresnans at the Huntington

Anne at the Doo Dah Parade

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