Friday, April 24, 2009

Foraging for Memories

Back when I was a botany student at SUNY Brockport, my heroine was a graceful little biology professor with a ballet background named Dr. Jean Bobear. Dr. Bobear could keep a class of mostly adolescent varlets entranced with just the plants found along a 20-foot stretch of campus sidewalk; she had a nearly-encyclopedic memory for local plants. Even better, the only time I ever stumped her by finding a plant whose name, habits and history she didn't know, she was thrilled and researched it in her taxonomy book as soon as we returned to the lab. How wonderful life would be if everyone was so passionate and joyous about their work, and had so little ego!

Dr. Bobear taught a fun course in the summer, "Edible and Useful Plants of Western New York," one of my favorites ever. We got to scrounge all kinds of plant materials, from bayberry from which I made candles to wild spearmint that I stuffed into a chicken and roasted for the class to eat during student presentations. We found goosefoot to be an excellent green when steamed and pigweed and oxalis to be lively additions to salads. Ever since, I have walked with my eyes down, automatically looking and remembering with gratitude Dr. Bobear's expertise.

One of the lessons she instilled was that when collecting plant materials, one must first be sure that there are plenty more before picking - how sad it would be to end the life of a rare plant! So, on one of my rambles around town with Cora, when I found this miner's lettuce (for my fellow plant geeks, Claytonia perfoliata) growing wild and wanted it for my salad, I checked carefully to make sure it was abundant before harvesting.

Another of Dr. Bobear's lessons was to be sure that anything you foraged was carefully identified and eaten only in small amounts the first time, just in case you have mistakenedly identified it or happen to have an allergy to it. She also taught me not to collect plants near sidewalks and roadways as passing dogs are likely to have "marked" it!

Henry Brooks Adams said: "A teacher affects eternity - he can never tell where his influence stops." More than 25 years later, Dr. Bobear's lessons are still with me - and now with you, too.

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10 Comments:

Blogger dancingmorganmouse said...

Bobear, what a wonderful name. I had a dentist once, Dr Bubear, distant relations perhaps?

Friday, April 24, 2009  
Blogger cookiecrumb said...

I have not-so-distant relations named Bugbear.

Friday, April 24, 2009  
Blogger Anna Haight said...

I love this remembrance of a wonderful teacher. I have definitely learned from this as well.

Monday, April 27, 2009  
Anonymous Karen said...

Sadly, Dr. Bobear died on Sunday after a short illness. However, she lived a full and wonderful life! She was just as you have described. I will share your remembrance with her family - it will be treasured. Thank you! I am her niece.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009  
Anonymous Noreene said...

Dr. Bobear (my Aunt Jean) died peacefully on Sunday, August 2 - only a few days after her 87th birthday. Her family became aware of your posting in the days just prior to her funeral and took great solace from your kind words. Thank you for saying them ! ! ! I too will remember her just as you described her - enthusiastic, "joyous", kind, and caring. We will all miss her !

Noreene

Saturday, August 08, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

On August third, my friend Jim who is also a biology teacher and his cousin saw your blog and brought it to my attention. They printed it off and gave it to me. I still have the copy. I sent it to everyone whose email address I had. My cousin also found it and printed it out and gave a copy of it to people at the wake. I am a teacher and I can not begin to tell you how much it means to a teacher and to their families when people voice positive reflections of a teacher's influence.

You must be a very observant person because Aunt Jean was definitely exactly as you describe. She had a quiet way of influencing people and leaving her impressions upon people who she met. There are times when some of the exact words which she said still ring out in my mind.

Thank you so much for posting your thoughts. She lived a beautiful life. Even in her passing she has been a wonderful role model.

Eileen

Monday, August 10, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I had a delightful class entitled Economic botany with Dr Bobear. She was certainly a gifted, inspiring teacher and I consider myself fortunate to have had that opportunity. I'm very sorry to hear of her passing.

Tom S.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I had a delightful class entitled Economic botany with Dr Bobear. She was certainly a gifted, inspiring teacher and I consider myself fortunate to have had that opportunity. I'm very sorry to hear of her passing.

Tom S.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have thought of you often lately. There is a saying that so long as someone living remembers you, you live on.

Saturday, March 05, 2011  
Blogger Zoomie said...

I have only just seen the comments from Dr. Bobear's family today. I'm so sorry I missed them at the time of Dr. Bobear's death. I would have liked to add my condolences to those of others who knew and appreciated her. Thank you for your kind words - they mean a great deal to me!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011  

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