Thursday, November 19, 2009


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith (11/18/09)

A touch of class, a hint of civilization, a love story, and a tragedy are themes entwined in the tale of the McCormick Rose, a cutting of which graces the steps into Old Main at NAU. The first McCormick Rose was brought as a cutting by Margaret Hunt McCormick, the bride of Richard McCormick, Arizona’s Second Territorial Governor, to Prescott in November 1865. A French Boursaid (Rosa gallica), an ancient French hybrid, this pink rose was the first cultivated rose in Arizona.

The rose at Old Main was a cutting of the McCormick Rose at the Sharlot Hall Museum in Prescott which was in turn a cutting from the original rose planted by Margaret McCormick by the front door of the Governor’s Mansion in Prescott.

The McCormick Rose began its journey in Margaret McCormick’s trousseau as she and Richard made their way to Arizona. First, the cutting accompanied them by steamship from New York to Jamaica and thence to Aspinwall at the Isthmus of Panama. Next, the cutting went with them overland on mule back to the Pacific Coast where they and the cutting again boarded a steamship for Acapulco. Richard and Margaret spent two days touring the deserted city, the French Army having chased out the Mexicans. Finally, the cutting went with them to Los Angeles.

After a few days rest in Los Angeles, they and the cutting took a stagecoach to Yuma where they boarded a steamer for a trip up the Colorado River to Ehrenburg. Then as Margaret described the last leg of the journey, it was “two ambulances, six government wagons, and two private baggage wagons” crossing the Mohave Desert to Prescott. The McCormick Rose, a hearty cultivar, flourishes today at Old Main and Cline Library.

Prescott had barely become Prescott at the time. Before that it was a single hastily built, ramshackle log cabin on the banks of Granite Creek, called Fort Misery by John Goodwin, the First Territorial Governor. The Governor’s Mansion to which Richard McCormick brought his well bred, well educated, New Jersey bride was a log cabin with dirt floors and windows without glass. Happily, Margaret was given carte blanche on improvements, furnishings, and decorations, having furniture made from pine logs.

The McCormick Rose was but a symbol of the civilization and elegance Margaret brought to Prescott. She transformed the rude log cabin into a frontier mansion, making a home for Richard and herself, an office for him, and accommodations for guests. She threw levees, entertained quests, and bade visitors and strangers welcome. Margaret wrote of her “own dear home” to her friend Emma in New Jersey, “We danced in the house” and “served cold roast beef & veal, pies & cakes in variety, almonds, raisins, jellies, coffee, lemonade, & wine.”

A considerable horsewoman, Margaret accompanied Richard on many of his trips throughout the Territory, becoming acquainted with many of the pioneers, impressing them with her grace.

Prescott at the time was a jumping off place for what Richard McCormick called a “terra incognita”, an unknown and unmapped land, a land fit for only “daring trappers and adventuresome gold seekers.” The log cabin Governor’s Mansion was a mansion only in comparison to the tents, shacks, lean tos, and wagons making up the rest of the settlement.

In another letter to her friend Emma, she wrote that she “was never so happy in her life,” and that Richard “acts much more the ‘lover’ now, than he did before we were married.”

On her return from a trip with Richard to San Francisco, she gave birth to a stillborn child. Thought to have been recovering well, she suddenly lapsed into a violent sickness and died one day short of her 24th birthday. She was buried with her stillborn child in her arms under an oak tree near the mansion, her grave strewn with wildflowers.

The Prescott Arizona Miner in May 3, 1867 wrote that Margaret was “a greatly loved woman,” whose death had “cast gloom over the community,” adding that “no woman in the Territory was more happy.”

Cuttings of the McCormick Rose, a poignant touch of Arizona's pioneer history, are available at the NAU Research Greenhouses (523-9100 or 523-9103).

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2009

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (10/5/09)

Diane von Furstenberg, the doyenne of New York's high fashion designers, said in an address to budding designers, "The more you can grow yourself naturally, the more you can control your destiny." While speaking to the high fashion industry in New York, she could just as well have been speaking to the gardeners, down and dirty, in anti-fashion Flagstaff, about growing their gardens naturally.

The correlation between natural and destiny is simple. Years ago when rafting down the Tuolumne River, I asked the rafter, a graduate student in philosophy at Berkeley, about the principles of rafting. He said, "You can't fight the river. It's too powerful. If you try, you'll get dumped. It's not quite like going with the flow, more like reading it and using the current." It might be called The Von Furstenberg Principle, using the current.

Modern industrial agribusiness, on the contrary, has used the same principle of exploitation as used by the coal mining and the oil drilling companies. Exploiting natural resources as though they were inexhaustible, unaware that earth is a limited sphere, they're legacy children who've never replenished their heritage, but have simply used it up, inevitably leaving themselves without resources, barren and sterile.

Sustainability, on the other hand, uses the model of replenishing, putting back as much, if not more, than is taken out. It might be called reinvesting in nature. Rather than exploiting the earth, it seeks to renew it in part by recycling and nourishing.

The introduction of too much synthetic fertilizer has resulted in soil salinization, as in California's Coachella and San Joaquin Valleys where vast tracks of land have become sterile. Too much salt in the soil is toxic because it hinders the ability of plants to take up water. In short, they die of thirst while being watered.

Salinization is not only a product of synthetic fertilizer itself, but also of water. Some of Flagstaff's golf courses are already suffering recurring bare and brown spots and dying trees. Watered, as they are, with reclaimed water, the courses are slowly being salinized because reclaimed water is saltier than spring water. With repeated usage the soil inevitably becomes salt toxic resulting which might result in courses of Astroturf with cell towers for pine trees.

What happens in agribusiness and on golf courses can also happen in pots on the deck or vegetable and flower beds in the yard. As Thomas P O'Neill, Jr., the late Speaker of the House of Representations, often said, "All politics is local." So it is with sustainability. It's local as well as global.

Dirt is not an infinite resource, as the farmers in the Coachella and San Joaquin have found out. With synthetic fertilizer blowback, garden soil can be turned sterile. It's best enriched using compost, animal manure, and organic fertilizers, such as blood and bone meal. Only horse, cattle, and chicken manure are useful because dogs, cats, and human beings eat their fellow animals and thus are likely to carry pathogens or nasties in their feces.

The purpose of sustainability is not only to grow our own food and cook it slowly, but also to rehabilitate the earth for those who follow us.
Industrialization has not only overtaken agribusiness, it also dominates the fast food industry which is nothing more than assembly line food.

Sometimes, advocates of sustainability sound like Luddites, followers of Ned Lud who at the end of the 18th century destroyed machines in reaction to industrialization. More than Ludditism, sustainability is a solution, not a reaction.

The irony of sustainability is that it requires both the high tech of rehabilitating water and the low tech of fertilizing the soil with organic material. The high tech is the sophisticated technology capable of rehabilitating water. Rehabilitation requires vast amounts of electricity which, in turn, requires sophisticated technology of using the sun and wind to generate enormous amounts of electricity. Paradoxically, the ravages of 19th and 20th centuries industrial exploitation will be redeemed by a 21st century Von Furstenberg Principle, a high-brow technological rehabilitation of finite water supplies and a low-brow fertilization of soil with animal waste and organic refuse.

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2009