The Cactus Patch
Volume 12       March 2009      Number 3

A Nostalgic Month
A Letter From Bruce
by Bruce Hargreaves

On Jan. 22nd we saw “Their Eyes were Watching God” at the Beale Library. (Be warned – the seats are small and uncomfortable.) The story centers on a Black community in Florida similar to Allensworth State Park in Tulare County. (Ironically, the only time I’ve been to Allensworth was years ago when the Golden Empire Chapter of the Mayflower Society [Alice Hargreaves, governor] had a picnic there. To add to the irony, my sister Lora was there with her two Micronesian children.) The film was based on a book by Zora Neale Hurston, a central figure in the Harlem Renaissance. (This was a start to Black History Month which actually was in February.) The renaissance was a bit before my time, but it did remind me of the premiere of “Uptown Saturday Night” in Harlem. Coretta Scott King and Sidney Poitier were in the front of the balcony above us. We later saw a censored version of the film in Malawi. They cut out the beginning because it took place in an illegal after hours gambling joint. After that the film-long run after a missing lottery ticket made little sense.

On the 29th and 31st of January Anne took us walking along the Kern River by the Truxtun Extension. (This was to augment our exercise group which meets MWF.) This brought back memories of when I took classes to this same site while teaching science at San Joaquin Valley College. The only succulents there are tiny crassulas which blend in with the moss. We watched a humming bird feed on early blooming wild tobacco and also noted the elderberry flowers were early.

On the 1st Anne held her annual anti-superbowl party in which we play board games and watch the ads. Fortunately we were waiting for the 3D ad at the end of the 1st half when there was a spectacular 100 yard run for a touchdown. (The 3D ad was an anticlimax.) Denny’s announced a free “Grandslam” (a breakfast we have long known to be a bargain) on the 3rd. We all trooped there on the day and were not disappointed. I was quite amazed at the ease with which they handled the crowd.

On the 5th we drove north, stopping at Mooney Grove in Visalia to do another walk. We were mobbed by birds, especially Canada Geese (the same species which brought down the plane in New York.) We also visited the small museum there. They have a good collection of Yokuts baskets, but I was surprised to see only one small one with feathers. (The museum in Stockton when I was a kid had lots of feather-covered ones.) On the way to lunch Polly pointed out where she sang a solo in her sophomore year at Redwood High. Lunch was at the Depot, a historic building with good cuisine at reasonable prices. The staff is very friendly.

That evening we met with the Fresno CSS for an Italian dinner and met the speakers, Naomi and Frank Bloss, again. They remembered us even though we had only met them in 1987 when I spoke at the newly formed CSS in Watsonville. (This was one of 14 talks I did on a lecture tour that year. I also spoke at the national club in Arizona as well as the British Museum and the International Botanic Congress in Berlin. All part of study leave from the University of Lesotho.) The talk in Fresno was on Argentina – cacti and bromeliads. The pictures were great, but the talk needed polish.

Next day we skipped our usual Grandslams and rushed back to Bakersfield for our exercise group. Ordinarily we would skip it, but this time they had a potluck afterwards. Incidentally, I would never pay to exercise, but this comes free with our health insurance. (I guess they figure we’ll cost less this way.)

Later that day the mail brought the 60th anniversary issue of the Society of Malawi Bulletin. (I am a lifetime member.) The lead article was on photography by John McCracken, a historian we had known at the University of Malawi. He starts with early European photographers such as the first governor, Harry Johnston. I have his book British Central Africa (London, 1897) which has a remarkable number of photos for the time. Among them is one of Euphorbia ingens and another of Sansevieria kirkii. Most of the article, however, centers on the African photographer Mungo Murray Chase. I have long known his photograph of John Chilembwe and his family (about 1910) which appears in Shepperson and Price’s Independent African (Edinburgh, 1958), but I knew nothing about the photographer. (Incidentally, the family is posed in front of a bush of Euphorbia tirucalli.

An appendix told me of a book by a descendant of John Chilembwe’s niece (Margaret Durham, Bones of My Ancestors, Earth City, Missouri, 2004) who has traced her ancestry. I immediately sent for it on line. It traces the slave ancestors from a plantation in North Carolina where the slaves were given a remarkable education. (They also picked up the owner’s name, Cheek. This reminded me of my own stay in North Carolina where I earned an MSPH. We went to sign up for a telephone and met a nice woman who was also Hargreaves – but black!) At any rate, Landan Cheek was the first black missionary to Nyasaland (now Malawi). He assisted John Chilembwe to found the Providence Industrial Mission. He married the niece Rachel Chilembwe and returned to the U.S. in 1907. In 1915 John Chilembwe was killed in an uprising against the British. He is now considered a martyr and a holiday has been declared in his honor on 15 January. (I shall share this book with my older son, John Chilembwe Hargreaves.)

On the 8th we watched the Nature series on “The Drakensberg, Barrier of Spears”. (It is available on DVD.) Although it was entirely about the South African side, it reminded me of many adventures in Lesotho. In 1987 I spent the first month of my study leave with a team from South Africa studying the high altitude plants. I found a new crassula, only found at 3,000 feet, which I named Crassula qoatlambensis. (Qoatlamba means Barrier of Spears and is the name of the range there. There is also Sehlabathebe or Plateau of the Shield which is a National Park at the southern end of the range.)

On the 10th we enjoyed the BCSS meeting on caudiciforms. (These are plants with succulent bases either above or below ground with viney annual growth. If the growth from the base is perennial, they are pachycauls. A term which has been formed to cover both is Pachyforms.) Paul Bowles read the text and showed the slides arranged by Gordon Rowley. (I met Gordon at his home, Cactusville, when I spent a week in Reading, England in 1990. He has a remarkable library and is a prolific author of succulent books.) Paul brought a good number of caudiciform plants as well as pachyform Dorstenia, Pachypodium, and Adenia.

The 12th of February was both the 200th birthday of Abraham Lincoln and of Charles Darwin. The February Smithsonian had cover articles on both. Polly & I celebrated by going to see the Harlem Globetrotters. They were even more hilarious in person. It was amazing to see how they fitted children into their program. They even let one young fellow enter the game and take a shot. He made it! On the 17th, Peace Corps had a recruiting meeting at Borders. We went and enjoyed the video which had a sixty year old woman serving in Malawi. Great to see some things continue.

Polly at Mooney Grove

Exercise Potluck

Bosses and FCSS

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