Scroll to the bottom for the lastest, and almost the last, post for Black History Month.
It snowed all day today, beautifully. This has been a most unsatisfactory winter, here in Bozeman itself. It started with quite a promising bang back in December; in the images below you can see every single indicator switching direction at 5am, which is when temperatures plunged into the negatives for a couple of weeks before Christmas.
More recently, however, we’ve had day after day after day of temperatures in the forties, though it’s almost always below freezing at night. In Montana, in January and February, that is not just weird, it’s worrying. I know that other people elsewhere are eager for spring, but planting season doesn’t really begin here until late May, so I don’t bother to feel excited yet. I just want a little more real winter weather before it’s over, and we seem to be having some finally.
There’s even the chance that I’ll be well enough to get out and play in this snowfall. Between toe surgery and shoulder problems and MS relapses, cross-country skiing hasn’t been a big item on my agenda recently, but I’m nearly done with the dread prednisone pills (no new hair sprouting so far), the cold that hit at the same time as the relapse may finally be making a slow and reluctant retreat (prednisone, since it suppresses the immune system, makes any little illness or infection that much harder to combat), and the deadly fatigue that seems to be this relapse’s main symptom may also be relaxing its tight tentacles.
Speaking of hair, here’s what James Alexander-Sinclair thought I should do, if I did indeed sprout a moustache. He described this as “not only elegant but just a little bit horticultural.” Emphasis, I would say, on “just a little bit.” With friends like these . . . .
One more thing: I have to apologize for the spate of typos in recent posts—most embarrassing. I’m, well, a terrible speller, when you come right down to it; my mother used to say out that I see (and swallow?) words whole; I just don’t see the letters they’re composed of. Too true, but not much of an excuse at this stage.
My father is also a comfort, because just as I’m a writer and English teacher who can’t spell, he’s a mathematician who can’t stand numbers and isn’t very good with them. He’d get all excited about elegant proofs, and when he worked calculus problem at the blackboard he’d move smoothly through all the variables and abstractions, xs and ys and f of xs and so on, but when it came down to the actual numbers involved he’d run his hands through his hair and say, “Aw, shit,” and then sort of hack his way through them with a broadsword. They bored him to death. (His field was C* (spoken “C-star”) algebra, which is apparently about as far from what most of us think of as numbers as one can get.) The idea that mathematics was about something as mundane as numbers enraged him; “That’s arithmetic!” he’d snort. I remember not wanting to tell him that one of my favorite professors at college was a number theorist. I knew he’d think the guy a lightweight.
George Washington Carver (1864-1943)
Just a few quick words about this man, whom I grew up thinking of the father of the peanut. He was, but he also worked with yams, soybeans, pecans, and other crops, and his goal was to restore fertility to fields depleted by decades of cotton cultivation. Carver pioneered crop rotation, and he understood the importance of legumes in replenishing exhausted soils. His work had enormous influence not only for black sharecroppers but for agriculture throughout the South.
He was the first black student at Simpson College, in Iowa, but transferred to what is now Iowa State University, where he gained first a Bachelor of Science degree in 1894 and then a Master of Science degree in bacterial botany and agriculture three years later. He was briefly a member of the faculty there (another first) before Booker T. Washington lured him to Tuskegee Institute to run the Agriculture Department.
Apparently the two had a stormy relationship; Carver, like so many creative scientists, appears to have been a lousy administrator, so he was constantly threatening to quit and Washington was frequently threatening to fire him. They never quite got around to dissolving the partnership, though, and after Washington’s death in 1915, Carver had fewer conflicts with the Institute.
Carver bemoaned the “exhaustive system for cultivation” common in the South, “the destruction of forest, the rapid and almost constant decomposition of organic matter,” which he said “have made our agricultural problem one requiring more brains than of the North, East or West.” The man was a proponent of sustainable agriculture, decades before the term had been invented.