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Across The Lake

This column sort of came through the mail. A friend in LaCrosse, a bookseller in Connecticut and a garden supplier in Faribault were among those with a hand in it, but I'll start with Harold Kiehne in LaCrosse. Actually, with a friend of his in Florida who sent Harold some clippings from Florida newspapers. Since that seems to be a state where some of the local snowbirds go, I perused the clippings Harold sent along with his letter, first making note of what he's doing himself.

He's a World War II vet which puts his age just right for talking to seventh and eighth graders about the war (he saw a lot of action in it) and about growing up during the Depression. Does it regularly, talks to 40 to 50 youngsters at a time, and knowing what a good storyteller he is, I'll bet they enjoy it.

The clips he sent along had me wondering about those folks in Florida, and why it's such an attraction. Forget the lousy weather they've been having and the damage to the citrus and strawberry crops and the loss to the farmers who raise them. One Miami clipping covered so many murders and assaults that at first I thought it was from Minneapolis, where "Minnesota Nice" seems to have lost its meaning.

Last week's mail brought another catalog from a bookseller named Edward G. Hamilton. Off and on, I've been buying from him since just a few pages of newsprint listed all his offerings. Today, it's a catalog of more than a hundred pages, printed in color, but especially catching attention because of his charge for postage. One book or a dozen, it's the same: just $3.50 per order, and that includes titles in some three or four dozen categories.

How to Back Up a Trailer: And 101 Things Every Real Guy Should Know. I haven't ordered that one, but probably should, having the most success in backing a trailer right into a ditch -- but that's another story. The book also tells how to build and light a campfire in the rain, and even how to tap a keg for the perfect beer flow. With the closing of the bookstore in the Paul Bunyan Mall, looking through the list of some 3,400 titles takes on new interest.

So does the catalog from Farmer seed, although blue potatoes or watermelon with orange insides aren't exactly what I'd choose for the limited space we have. I look at the miniature fruit trees in the catalog and then at the grapefruit tree My Favorite Reader started from seed several years ago. It's never produced fruit, never even bloomed, but just sits there in its large pot, attractive and green and inspiring hope for the future.

That hope for the future is what Garden Club members exhibit, probably right about now. They get so little credit for all they do to make their town more attractive, more pleasant, more inviting. The pots on street corners, the window box planters like those at the History Center, the plantings at Wayside Park -- all of these things get to be sort of taken for granted by the rest of us. With encouragement, they might even figure out a way to beautify those dumpsters now parked by The Pond!

In a few weeks, tomato seeds will be started -- Grandma Swenson started hers in one pound Nash Coffee cans -- and cucumbers and squash, too. If he does it the same this year, Ed Carberry will have a whole garden ready to transplant when the weather is right, and he won't be alone. Mrs. Gross, up the road from us, has a big planter just off the edge of the right of way, always nice to see, and there's a spot not too far from the Crippen's and another on the Gull Lake Road -- both showplaces by mid-summer.

One more catalog, the one from Seed Savers. Founded in in 1975, it's dedicated to preserving heirloom seed and now offers some 2,500 varieties, many dating back not just decades but centuries. Three dozen kinds of squash, eight pages of tomato seeds including Riesentraube and Blondkopfchen. Page after page of flower seeds, too, so I naturally had to look at what Hollyhocks were included. Varieties include both the Nigra and Outhouse kinds, though for now I'm counting on the plants I got from Steve Bechtold a year ago.

The Seed Savers Exchange is located not far from Decorah, Iowa, and it's well worth a visit if you're in that area (which can happen if you have a daughter and her family there). They not only maintain gardens preserving those endangered varieties, but also have a membership offering a total of 21,564 different kinds of seed. Fascinating.

All in all, the mail has been interesting even with all the stuff that gets tossed into the paper-recycling bag. My Favorite Reader has been busy, catching up on the many notes that demand to be written in response to those that came with holiday greetings.

I need to do some of that, too, including one to Harold. Who else would think to send you a clipping about a six foot shark found in the middle of the street in a Florida town?

Thoughts while drying the dishes... We just learned of the closing down of a couple of weekly papers in Oregon, which prompts just this very serious comment: "Thanks for being one of our readers."