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Musings About Family, Travel And Gardening With Allen Martinson.

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A Fist Full of Sheckles


I THINK IT’S been long enough after the winter storm to report on what the outcome has caused. At first it looked pretty bad. The Cinnamon Girl Distylliums all over town looked like they were going to bite the dust. Two weeks later they were leafing back out more than ever, they will for ever go down in my book as tough- as- nails. We have so many Loropetalums around here, they have become a real go-to plant especially in the home builders realm. Many of them were not planted properly, in poor soil and were weak to start with. When a home builder sticks a plant in the clay gravel and junk left over after a build so they can get the house sold as quickly as possible they are not doing the buyers any favors. Its great for my business because the plants begin their two year journey to death the day they are planted.


My point is that the plants that were already weak before the storm had less of a chance than those plants that were hardy and healthy. It makes it difficult to proclaim a plant hardier than another because there are so many factors involved. The location of the plants makes a big difference. Those plants that had a wall or some kind of barrier between the plant and the north wind fared better than those that didn’t. Brick walls can capture and hold some heat, that can save the day sometimes. We’ve gotten spoiled being able to plant lantana, oleander, bottle brush trees and palms and have them come back for us year after year. We go so many years without a disruption like that we let our guard down and forget that we are just a little far north for some of that to act perennially every year.



MY THOUGHT ON that is that I will continue planting whatever I want to plant knowing that these things will happen from time to time. I would rather enjoy these “iffy”plants for a short time as opposed to no time at all. Sounds like the beginning of a country song. On a positive note, my Roses, Forsythia, Hydrangas, Spirea, Azaleas and other early spring blooms look better than any other year that I can remember. I don’t know if the cold caused that or a change in my pruning habits last year had something to do with that. It may have been a combination of the two. Some of the readers may remember the newest bed that Mimi and I created with the Limelight Hydrangas and Japanese Yews.


We made a big point out of planting everything at the proper distance so they could grow round and full. We figured that the plants might touch each other after three years or so. They exploded out of the winter gloom twice as much as I would ever have believed! They will be touching by the end of this year,I’m not talking about Three gallon Hydrangas, I mean Limelight tree form Hydrangas that were in fifteen gallon pots. They are absolutely gorgeous, I cant wait to see the bloom show. I will attribute that explosion to the cotton seed meal and other slow release fertilizers that we used last year and maybe give some of the bloom credit to the cold. I haven’t seen any buds forming yet but if they are as loaded as my Oakleaf Hydrangas are right now its going to be quite a show. My Oakleaf Hydrangas are eight feet tall and drooping with the heavy weight of the blooms. My Snowball Viburnums are twelve feet tall and when they were blooming it was like a solid wall of white across my back edge. Due to the cold? Not sure but it is a mighty big coincidence that all this happened in the same season. What I do know is that I’m one hundred percent positive that the organic methods are paying off big time, winter storm or not.


Enough about that, time for a crazy travel story.


WHEN I TOOK a year and nine hundred bucks to walk a circle around the Mediterranean Sea (check that story out on our website) I ran into some crazy situations. One that I will never forget is when it was time to cross into Israel from Egypt. I had spent a couple weeks in the Sinai Dessert and I had plans to spend two months in Israel. At this time I was traveling with another backpacker that was on the same schedule and budget that I was on at the time (no schedule). We were on a bus barreling towards the border crossing through the dessert. The bus stopped at a village one stop before the border. The bus driver yelled out that he was going to pull in for a short amount of time and that if you weren’t back on the rickety , dusty bus when he got good and ready he would leave you. I jumped off to grab anything cold to drink. I found a coke (written in Arabic) and got back on the bus to savor every drop.


My buddy ran into some other backpackers and decided that he would exchange some Egyptian pounds for Israel’s Sheckles and back into US dollars, he had a strategy that he made a little extra money swapping currencies on the black market. When he jumped off the bus to find some travelers who might want to do the deal he left his backpack on the bus thinking he’d be right back, the place was pretty desolate, he figured his chances of finding someone to do business with were pretty slim. Turns out there was a group there that needed to exchange so when I hollerd out to him that the bus was about to leave he said he would catch the next bus and asked that I watch his pack for him until he could get to the border. Too late, no choice in the matter, the bus lurched forward.


So here I was with two back packs headed to the border into Israel after having been hanging out in Arabic countries for the last five months. Not a great predicament to be in, I had been hearing from other travelers that the Israeli military didn’t love Arabic country stamps in your passport. You have to remember that this is 1983 when there were still hostages in Lebanon and things were generally unrestful over there (as always). When I got to the border military encampment I found out that the next bus coming through wouldn’t be until Saturday, this was a Thursday. I wasn’t going to wait that long for him in that hell hole so I put on my pack and started dragging his pack through the line outside on a gravel road. I figured he knew where I was going, he could catch up with me. I was a little miffed with him for leaving me in this situation. I was headed for a beach on the Red Sea that you can sleep on where the police wont harass you until you move on after a couple nights. When it was my turn to pass through to the other side the border patrol was not liking my two backpacks. They motioned to me to pick up the packs and follow them. When I followed them into a tiny unlit, hot building a lot of shouting ensued.


It was all happening aggressively and in Hebrew so I was thoroughly confused, scared and mad enough that I really didn’t care what happened to his pack as long as I could get out of there before anything about locking me up came up. They shouted that they wanted to know why I had two packs, who’s was the other one, where is he, did I watch him pack it, did I know that there wasn’t a bomb in there? What really didn’t help is that my buddy was a little paranoid about someone stealing something from him so he put a miniature padlock where his two zippers met in the middle on his old Jansport backpack. I told them that I would pick the little lock, oh boy! That was the wrong thing to say, the yelling got even more intense, something about tourist get blown up on Egypt/Israel border and BLAH BLAH BLAH! After they tore through my pack they had me grab his pack and follow them.


By now the other people who had been on the bus with me were generally disgusted with me I guess for having to wait while all this happened, they just looked down while me and eight cops passed by them on our way out into a little field where they had concrete underground little bomb bunker, the best way I can describe it is an underground garbage can with a very solid lid that has a circular handle that locks it closed. They stopped all traffic moving towards Egypt and all traffic moving into Israel, hooked up plastics explosives to the pack and locked down the lid. We all went behind a low concrete wall and they pushed a button and blew up his backpack, problem solved. When I met this guy he had been on the road for about a year so he had collected a few things along the way , most importantly he had developed all of his film into the negatives, making it much lighter and safer as far as going through x ray scanners which can totally ruin any pictures left undeveloped. When he had enough negatives built up he would mail them home when he came across a post office in a larger city. He had a pretty good build up of negatives in there and was just on the verge of mailing some home if he reached Jerusalem.


The negatives were now just a brown glob of goo as was everything else in what was left of his pack. They held it up and said, “ no bombs in here” and acted like they were going to hand the smoking handful of nothing off to me to deal with. I shook my head and walked on into Israel. I did at least wait for him on the beach until Sunday morning to him sitting next to me wearing everything he now owned. He had his passport and his money on him so he was going to be alright. On my budget there wasn’t much that I could do to help him. Luckily he was a marine biologist and we were right next to the worlds most interesting sea so he got a job at a lab, had a little thingy with a German girl for a while, so it all worked out in the end. I know about how he made out because about a year later he pulled into my parents driveway on the motorcycle he had ridden across the country from his home town of Redondo Beach, California to New York to catch his flight to Europe to begin his journey.

I have since gone out to Redondo Beach to visit him and laugh about the crazy time we spent together. The negatives that he did get to mail home before the Great Border Incident were incredible, he had published some of them that were taken deep down in the dessert. Sometimes I think about how lucky I am for having seen and done what I saw and did, some of the places I passed through don’t exist or are in shambles now. It was like I had an invisible shroud around me that kept me safe and stealthy and protected me from some weird, close calls. There are four other incidents involving bombs along the way that I will tell you about eventually. Until then I am hoping that everyone is enjoying this fabulous spring that we’ve been handed this year and that your invisible protection shroud is working for you as well as mine did!

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