A Christmas Trip I
Bill Long 12/31/09
Closing Out the Year--in Warmth!
I normally spend Christmas week in the 30-40 degree clime of Oregon's Willamette Valley, but this year I had the chance to spend it in San Diego and environs. I write this essay from my hotel room in that city, where I basked in the 64 degree weather today. I never knew how much difference 25 degrees could make...
In addition to doing some consulting work here, I managed to engage in some of my favorite activities: (1) visit an art gallery; (2) visit two botanical gardens (Moorten in Palm Springs; San Diego in Encinitas); (3) go to the Holiday Bowl (it was a cakewalk for Nebraska); (4) study some Greek (I now have read the first 175 lines of the Iliad; it would be nice to make Iliad mastery a goal for 2010; (5) review some conversational German; (6) travel to Palm Springs to visit the Tahquitz Canyon (Agua Caliente Band of the Cahuilla Indians) and (7) review a few chapters of my book tentatively entitled 300 Words to Success for Students and Young Professionals. This and the next essay will briefly introduce a few things I learned on the trip.
Way Leads To Way--The California Fan Palm
One of my main points about learning in 2010 is that it now can be primarily described, for the first time, as "way leads to way" learning. By that I mean that all knowledge, potentially, is simply at the distance of a click of a mouse for us. Instead of linear learning where we read one book or a series of articles on the same subject, we are now able rapidly to put together impressive learnings in quickly ramifying searches. The Internet and ready availability of good information online enables this. Even though I learned about dozens of plants, several significant historical events, and many artists in the last few days, I would like to illustrate this method by pursuing the "course" or "way" that I followed with a few pieces of plant or historical information.
Let's begin with a question I put to the Tahquitz Canyon guide, though we need to have some "background information" for the question to make sense. If you aren't aware, that Canyon, at the southern end of Palm Springs, has been one of the homes of the Agua Caliente band of the Cahuilla Indian Tribe for hundreds, and perhaps 3,000 years. Though the tribe historicaly claimed land over a several thousand square mile area from the Chocolate Mountains (I just wanted to go there to sink my teeth into them!) to the Pacific Ocean, it was officially (that means by White Americans) given alternate sections of land in the 1860s/1870s (the railroads--was it the Southern Pacific?--got the rest). This checkerboard pattern might have seemed inconvenient at the time but it has been put to good use by the Agua Caliente band of the Cahuilla, who now have resorts and casinos dotting the Palm Springs area.
In any event, though the Agua Caliente has been and is owner of the Tahquitz Canyon (and the legend of the evil Tahquitz can easily be found online), from the conclusion of a 1969 rock concert until 1998 the canyon area was occupied by a series of squatters/hippies/druggies, etc. who brought in so much junk that when it was finally cleaned out in the late 1990s, our guide said that 200 tons of stuff was removed. After that the Agua Caliente decided to make their ground in the canyon available for public tours. After a few years of "guide-only" tours, they now permit people to hike without guide though I, of course, just had to hear how the guide put together his narrative.
Ralph, our guide, taught us many interesting things, but the question I raised to him, and which led me from "way to way" was: (1) Why is the only native (to California) genus of palm tree called the Washingtonia rather than the California? Ralph's answer: "Some German botanist in the 19th century named it in honor of George Washington." That's all I knew, but it excited my interest. So, I did a little online research. It happens that the German botanist was Hermann Wendland (1825-1903), who is credited with naming more than 100 species of palm trees and is himself honored with genus names of many plants, gave us the genus Washingtonia. Here is a page about him.
Once I know there is a person behind something, I become engrossed in trying to find out about him. A third-generation botanist, Wendland took over as manager of the Royal Gardens at Herrenhausen at his father's death in 1870. But what touches on our story is his interest in palm botany, which began in the mid-1850s. He made a trip through Central America in 1856-57 to collect species of palms and other plants for his collection back in Germany. As the page linked above says:
"Many of his taxonomic works remain the standard references and his name is associated with more palm genera than any other botanist. In total Wendland named some 130 palm species, including....Washingtonia robusta."
Well, the Washingtonia robusta is actually the Mexican fan palm; the popular palm in Palm Springs area is Washingtonia filifera or the California fan palm. I had to keep searching. This page tells us that the W. filifera and W. robusta are "closely related and quite similar," and then it provides a chart detailing differences. Precious.
Well, as it turned out, I was just starting to learn...