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Musings About Family, Travel And Gardening With Allen Martinson.


Marrakesh Express

DURING THE FIRST YEAR after Mimi and I got married, Mimi was teaching English literature and coaching cross country at Madison Ridgeland Academy. During that time we finished building the greenhouses and had begun to grow bedding plants for Garden Works and 60 other customers. Mimi was coming in to help me plant, which meant getting there at 5:30 am, then going to MRA to teach and coach, then coming back in the late afternoons for more planting and finally leaving well after dark. We knew we couldn’t keep that schedule going forever, so after a year of that, she decided she was receiving more gratification from the growing business than from teaching. We were excited to be working together all day every day. Working with your spouse can be a bad thing for some marriages, but in our case it was a great thing. We enjoyed the challenges together and brainstorming the future together. It seemed as if the sky was the limit concerning which direction to take this business. At first, we offered our plants on a wholesale level and drove delivery trucks to three states and all over Mississippi. We delivered bedding plants to landscape jobs, garden centers and produce stands. We grew perennials, herbs, annuals and hanging baskets and loaded trucks as fast as we could. We grew 11,000 one gallon mums for the market and 2,000 of our famous, giant three gallon mums that we still grow to this day. After the third year of that scramble, we decided it was time for a break. We decided not to grow any one gallon mums for that fall. We built a drip irrigation system with a timer on it so the 2,000 three gallon mums would get water every day. Then we gave the baby mums their first pinch and skedaddled off to Morocco for a month….a pretty risky move, but it was high time for a big trip…come what may.

WE HAD SAVED and pinched enough pennies for airfare to this north African country. It doesn’t take much money to visit Morocco the way we used to travel. A place to stay was something like one dollar per night, and meals and transportation are priced relative to that, so we didn’t need much money once we got there. I knew my way around Morocco from my previous visit, which would make the experience a little easier. We headed to the Sahara Desert in August, which happens to be Mimi‘s birthday month. It’s also a very hot month to be in the Sahara Desert. Our journey started in Casablanca where all the buildings are white against the shimmering Mediterranean Sea. We didn’t stay there long because we were booked on the Marrakesh Express, the train that Crosby, Stills and Nash made famous with their song. The Beatles, the Rolling Stones and countless hippies and bands had ridden and written songs about this trippy ride to Marrakesh in the 70’s. We wanted to stay in Marrakesh for awhile, but we wanted that to be our starting point for heading farther south into the desert so I could show Mimi some of the beautiful places I had fallen in love with while I was there before. The train ride was an overnighter with wooden bench seats. Everybody was on the train… business people, nomads, chicken traders, goat swappers and everything in between. From the window we could see the scenery was getting more and more desolate the farther south we chugged. We were beginning to see the walls and villages made of dry clay bricks. We began to see wild camels and shepherds with their flocks. We were closing in on Marrakesh, which is the wildest city I’ve ever been to.

THE MINUTE WE climbed our sore bones off the train, we were immersed into what seemed like a perpetual circus that had been going on for 2000 years. (It had). In the middle of town there were acrobats, jugglers, storytellers, snake charmers with giant cobras, performing monkeys and street boxing. I looked back at Mimi and saw those giant blue eyes. I held out my hand and hollered over the noise, “Hang on!“ We held tight until we found our one dollar hotel room, shut the door behind us and exhaled. We made it to Marrakesh! We slept hard in spite of the heat and the sounds and smells that were unfamiliar to us. We were awakened by the loudspeaker attached to the minaret that was next-door to the place where we were staying. (That probably explains the one dollar hotel room.) The loudspeaker crackled, then a beautiful song, a call to prayer, begin to take over the air. That’s when we really knew we weren’t in Kansas anymore. The call to prayer happens five times a day, and anyone who can drops what they are doing to have a spiritual moment, then gets right back to whatever they were doing. Even though the cities and villages came alive with the wonderful prayers at all hours of the night, we looked forward to hearing them. If we weren’t sleeping on the rooftop where the air was cool, we would go to the rooftop to listen. The songs are ancient and hauntingly raw and beautiful… something we will never forget. We were slowly heading for the Grand Atlas mountains which are the tallest mountains in North Africa. We planned to climb to the top of the snowcapped mountains just to remember what it felt like to be chilly for a few hours.

OUR TRIPS ARE MADE and remembered by the people we meet along the way. This trip would be made by a young man named Glen Cousquer, from Wales, who had gone to school in Edinburgh, Scotland. Glen is an expert mountain climber and zoologist. We climbed with him and made a great connection. When we departed company, we traded addresses, vowing to link back together on another trip. In reality, I figured that was the last we’d see of him. That was until we received a call from him out of the blue a few years later from New Orleans. He was at a conference there. We hightailed it to New Orleans to hang with him and then he came with us back to our house. We took him through the Mississippi Delta and then on to some canoeing and camping at Tishomingo State Park in north Mississippi. The three of us slept in a tent in August, in Mississippi and oh, did I mention that Mimi was nine months pregnant? Currently, “Glen is a writer, photographer, international mountain leader and Veterinary Surgeon who actively uses narrative and photography to help individuals, communities and organizations understand, explore and reimagine their relationship(s) with animals and the environment. His work is about connection, systems thinking, holism and empathy.” You never know who you’ll meet while traveling in these crazy places! We make a point to share dinner or taxi rides with people we meet along the way. Hearing tales from fellow travelers might just lead to our next adventure. These personal encounters are always the highlight of our memories. You can see some of Glen’s work on his Facebook page, Glen Cousquer Photography. His work is stunning and meaningful, and we feel honored to know him. We hope to reconnect somewhere when the world allows. The best of this trip is yet to come in next week’s article. Until then, take care of yourself and each other. It looks like this ride is just beginning to get interesting. We are staying open to the idea of change and are trying to make our changes positive ones.

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