Over the past few years I’ve had the privilege of meeting with some real geeks.
I speak as a geek myself, of course. We have ways of signaling to each other, involving mutual delight. You know you’re in the company of a geek when she presents you with some odd, obscure, newly discovered or just key fact in the manner of a golden retriever handing over a freshly fetched duck. “Just look at that!” says the attitude. “Isn’t that pretty?”
There are geeks for everything under the sun, of course, and for everything beyond. You want a taste, go hang around the various science blogs run by Seed and Discover magazines. But gardening and its sister passions seem somehow to lay out a depth and breadth of geekhood, a fractal pattern of such distractive and absorptive power at so many levels, that one is tempted to call it foundational.
I’ve met people who started out playing with pollen as a hobby, when some favorite plant got overwhelmed by bugs or disease and no resistant varieties existed in the trade. There’s a gorgeous small-flowered climbing fuchsia that resists fuchsia mites now and just happens to be a gorgeous and different plant, just for example, and the marine biologist who bred it has quite the dry-land sideline and fame in several circles now.
I’ve met a couple of guys who keep caterpillars in big jars on the bookshelves; one of them schleps those around to schools and events and explains what’s really going on with butterflies and how to start seeing it and how to keep it going. Sometimes a caterpillar or two gets wily and ambitious, and escapes those net-covered jars to pupate under a diningroom chair or on the curtains. So the house has absolutely unique décor that includes a golden-touched monarch chrysalis on a cabinet, and sometimes, unpredictably, hatched-out butterflies flying about.
That’s my kind of housekeeping!
Some of us flit from distraction to obsession like so many fickle butterflies. I visited a breeder of Pacific Coast Hybrid irises who also has some fancy shrub monkeyflowers in an astounding range of rosy colors for so small a patch, and oh incidentally breeds alpine plants and carnivorous plants (and is managing to keep specimens of our native cobra lily thriving, which I can tell you isn’t easy without your own fen) and chorus frogs and killifish. And has a day job.
Joe and I got into this mess ourselves starting with birds. We knew that the way to learn in the field is to attach oneself to the nearest gray-haired birder like a limpet and pay attention. When someone said, “There’s the warbler, in the middle of the manzanita,” we had to learn that too, and one thing led to another and now we’re carrying on in Latin-derived epithets half the time. Half the neighbors think we’re talking dirty.
Come to think of it, we are. The best part is: There’s no end in sight.