Monday, February 26, 2007

The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (2/25/07)

Charlotte Minor always wanted to be the first woman forester, but while studying forestry at NAU where her father was the founding dean of the School of Forestry, she discovered that she was ten years too late. Instead, she became a forest landscape architect for the Kaibab National Forest after securing her master’s degree from the U of A in landscape architecture. As a feminist, she’s not militant, rather committed. As a member of the Society of Friends (Quaker), militant wouldn’t quite fit the bill, but then neither does pacifist feminist. Whatever the paradox, she brings it off.

A tall, slim, witty, singularly attractive woman with an infectious smile, Charlotte means business, especially when it comes to the human impact upon the environment. She believes in “the unobtrusive,” as in keeping the artificial to a minimum. One might wonder why the Forest Service would hire a landscape architect since a forest can’t be landscaped without destroying it. Charlotte designs landscapes in the forest where artificial, human constructions intrude into the forest, such as, water tanks for cattle and camping sites for human beings. Her principles are simple: detract as little as possible from the natural setting and fit in as much as possible. Sounds like the same principles for a covert agent. “Don’t let anyone know you’re there.”

In landscaping residences, Charlotte’s mind turns about 180 degrees because in residential building a massive artifice has already intruded into the natural process. Her first concern is restoring the natural beauty as much as possible and stabilizing the environment which has been destabilized by construction. Another concern is the planned use of the property, even to the point of micro-climates in a yard, such as, the amount of sun, the presence of moisture, and the effect of the wind. As with any sensible person in the Southwest, she is concerned about conserving water, and, therefore, she advocates xeriscape landscaping.

In landscaping a yard, she thinks in terms of artistic composition, beginning with the big things, such as trees, which serve as anchors in a yard, much like famous department stores do in shopping malls. Then she works down through shrubs and flowers to the grasses. Of course, the most effective way to accomplish the design is xeriscaping a yard with native plants or plants which are adapted to the southwestern climate. The Flagstaff Xeriscape Council produced a very useful brochure “Flagstaff Fabulous Plants” on line at

Two of her favorite bushes are the bird-loving red chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia) along with the texture and color of the tree leaf sumac (Rhus typhina.) As for flowers, she likes the many types of columbine (Aquilegia), penstemons, and coreopsis. One of her favorites is the native rocky mountain iris (Iris missouriensis), a blue/purple iris resembling a miniature domesticated iris. It was discovered “toward the sources of the Missouri” by the famous botanist Nathaniel Wyeth in 1834.

Charlotte’s likes grasses because they are hardy and easy to grow, such as blue gramma (Bouteloua gracilis) and “some of the Muhlys,” by which she meant species of the genus Muhlenbergia which was named after the Rev. Gotthilf Heinrich Muhlenberg, a Lutheran minister and famous botantist. With a name so formidable, no one would chew gum in his class.

Landscape design seeks to mimic nature as much as possible so that a yard gives people a feel of nature, using the apparently random yet functional designs of nature to soften the harsh, rectangular designs of human beings. God apparently favors the paradoxical and ironic of meandering streams while human beings seem to favor the rationally sequential with straight-line concrete channels.

The grasses serve as a backdrop on which the flowers, shrubs, and trees can be placed, giving people an ease within themselves as though they are in tune with the natural process. While we leave more than footfalls in the forest, we can fit in as much as possible with our landscaping, making it a picture worth taking.

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2007

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