February 28, 2015
by TLC Nielsen
Do not ask your children
to strive for extraordinary lives.
Such striving may seem admirable,
But it is the way of foolishness.
Help them instead to find the wonder
And the marvel of an ordinary life.
Show them the joy of tasting
Tomatoes, apples and pears.
Show them how to cry
When pets and people die.
Show them the infinite pleasure
In the touch of a hand.
And make the ordinary come alive for them.
The extraordinary will take care of itself.
William Martin, The Parent’s Tao Te Ching: Ancient Advice for Modern Parents
This quote sits to the right of my computer. It reminds me of the power of the simple things of life.
The power of one person in this adventure called life cannot be easily constrained and stuffed into words on a page. But I’m attempting that at my blog, to share the ordinary extraordinary true stories of folks in my life. It’s in the simple events of life that the importance of the ordinary individual shines through. This month I'd love to share the life of someone who taught me the marvels of ordinary things such as the beauty of seeds under a microscope and the joy of aiding a turtle across the road - botanist Linda W. Curtis.
Photograph by Jim Curtis
I nominated my mother, Linda, this year for Lake County Suburban Life’s Lake County Leaders, people who make a difference behind the scenes in Lake County. She was one of 8 nominees chosen for special recognition by the newspaper. I wrote about my mom in a recent guest blog for the 10 Minute Novelist, Katharine Grubb (www.10minutenovelist.com) As an original “Ordinary Extra-ordinary” person – mom, great grandmother, retired college professor, artist, Kindergarten teacher, photographer and botanist – Linda Curtis is a down-to-earth person I’d love to introduce to you.
My mom worked three jobs to put herself through college, where she met my dad. While a mom of three, she finished her masters degree in botany. Her garden kept our family fed. Her many jobs (sign painter, landlady, part-time college professor) kept us financially afloat. She became a full-time college professor in her 50’s and retired to botanical research, ending up in ditches, bogs and beaches.
Q) You are a well-known botanist - how did you first get interested in plants?
A) When I was small, the Quaker Oats box advertised an offer for iris and lily bulbs for 25 cents. My mother bought them and planted them outside the door of my families log-sided home. I was enamored of the color and design, yellow iris followed by orange lilies. And all around, Scottish bluebells.
Q) Tell us more about your childhood! Where did you grow up and what were you like?
A) I grew up in a wonderful neighborhood, a street of mostly owner-constructed homes with families sharing the same economic problems of World War 2. Victory gardens were necessary and I tended the family garden with my brothers, but also raised strawberries and raspberries like my grandparents who lived next door. I walked miles with my grandfather during the wild berry seasons, Juneberry, strawberry, raspberry, blueberry, blackberry. And harvests from the garden were grand with carrots and potatoes that went into the root cellar with all of Grandmother’s preserves.
What was I like? My grandmother called me “Sunshine”. I would like to think that was a pleasant disposition. I was a good student, walked a mile to school every day, including brutal northern Wisconsin weather.
Q) Where did your love of nature take you through school?
A) Those were the days... when you could pick wildflowers on the side of the road and take them to your smiling teacher. And the bog I walked past to reach our home was full of pink moccasin flowers, hundreds as far as my eyes could see. A bouquet of wildflowers in a vase by my bed meant I woke up to beauty every morning in summer and fall. Then progress came to our northern town and the local dime store sold potted plants. When I was 13, I bought my first plant, a Pothos ivy that I still have today.
In science classes, I may have been the only student to illustrate my assignments. I remember the science teacher liked them. My father was an artist/ painter/musician so I thought everyone drew or painted at night and made your own music. This was before television. And we had the direct order from my father that sounded like “Thou shalt not use anyone else’s drawing or artwork.” Coloring books were not allowed. In school, teachers scolded me for coloring outside the lines and making blends and textures. My work was seldom on the bulletin board for display as I had poor handwriting.
When the Korean War was over, the GI Bill helped returning soldiers go to college and become teachers. I was one of the lucky benefactors in that they taught what they knew, the math of trajectory and ballistics, and were strong in teaching science. The textbooks of the day improved greatly, so as long as you could read, you’d never be bored. I read my two older brothers textbooks when brought home for homework assignments. I could hardly wait for them to finish. Luckily, flashlights had been invented so kids could read under their blankets at night.
Q) What were your interests outside of botany?
A) The local library was my lifeline. I read the reference books over and over as I could not take them home. I especially enjoyed the volumes on Lepidoptera, butterflies and moths and made a wonderful collection of my own. I now write occasionally for Wisconsin Entomology Society News-letter and send images of insects I find to UF-Gainesville Entomology Department.
Q) What careers have you had outside of being a scientist?
A) The most sacred, as mother of God’s children. Just as I learned our true parent was Father-Mother-God, I knew my children were on loan to me, and I was their caregiver and provider. Later, when they were in college and I couldn’t find enough part-time teaching jobs, I used my free-hand calligraphy skills and began a paper sign business for store windows that helped put the kids through college. Also, I took out a loan as a down payment on a duplex apartment. The kids helped with cleaning and painting, and later, my granddaughters worked for me. What a blessing.
Q) When did you know you wanted to be a teacher?
A) In college, although I started my freshman year in Medical Technology and took general science and courses, I thought it would be enjoyable to teach earth science and biology. I had excellent mentors.
Q) What was the most unique aspect of family life with you being a scientist?
A) Just plain fun! Games and experiments, field trips and camping, the natural world was all around us.
Q) How did you end up publishing your own books?
A) Rejection letters!
Q) You are a speaker as well as a scientist and author. Who in your family was the most like you?
A) All of our children are talented as speakers and writers.
Q) What current projects are you working on?
A) With Bog-Fen Carex, my third book, at the printer I can finish Dunes Carex and Central Florida Carex. I also put my science reports and funny stories on my website, www.curtistothethird.com
Q) What’s in store for you in the future?
A) A brilliant future of endless possibilities, it just gets better.