The Cactus Patch
Volume 16       November 2013      Number 11

A Letter From Bruce
by Bruce Hargreaves

On the 14th and 15th of September we took plants to the fair. While the club exhibit was excellent, I miss the garden displays. We glanced in at the new “beer garden” and found it barren. I was pleased to note there were two letters in the Californian protesting the change. Friday the 20th was free for seniors, so we went and toured a few of the exhibits. We then tried to find the sea food mentioned in the Californian. To quote the paper, “On the healthier side, a concession has expanded outside the Villa Festiva area, offering a menu focused on fish. Two guaranteed items are a shrimp, octopus and abalone cocktail and a cevich and shrimp tostada.” [Actually none of these are fish!] We asked at stands in the Villa Festiva but no-one knew about any pulpo (octopus). I finally settled for a chili verde taco. Finally, we watched a dance troupe of many “Aztecs.”

On the 24th we returned to the fair and took the tram ride around. We finally found the sea food over next to the main grandstand. The cocktail of shrimp, octopus and abalone was delicious! I have not eaten abalone in years. After that we watched a bird show which was small but good. Most of the birds were parrot relatives, but there was one toucan which, although it didn’t talk, did perform on command. We then went to watch a cooking demonstration done in a red car. It used so much garlic I could smell it from the audience. I did not eat the free offerings! That evening we watched the Four Tops, a Motown group from the past. One of them was original and the others relatives and friends. I only knew a few of their numbers.

On the 29th we had breakfast at Denny’s so Polly could have a free meal for her birthday. She has now reached the Biblical three score and ten. That afternoon we ate at Cactus Valley, her choice, but she found the cactus soup overcooked and too salty. (A new cook?) Next day we returned to the fair one last time to pick up plants.

On the 3rd of October we went to the Fresno Fair (with free parking and entrance thanks to the Fresno CSS). It was lunch time, so our first stop was to get a Sonora sausage, a delicious bacon wrapped sausage (not a hot dog) with a stuffed jalapeno. We then watched over the FCSS display and talked to visitors. We then walked around the fair. It is interesting that there were only four garden displays (not including the FCSS), but at least the tradition continues. Incidentally, the little fair up at Quincy had about a dozen garden displays! That evening we heard Rob Skillin speak on Madagascar. It was interesting how different his visit was from ours.

I recently read an article that reminded me how difficult it is to pin down the definition of “species”. As a colleague at Kew Gardens, Dick Brummit, told us at a conference once, “A species is whatever the experts in a particular field decide it is.” Or as the article in Discovery June 2010 (Unclassified by Richard Conniff) says, “Looking at species, Jody Hey says, is like looking at clouds”. “I don’t necessarily care what the taxonomic rank would be of the units I’m studying”, says Hey, whose current research involves cichlid fish* in Lake Malawi. “I could go in and study the level of divergence in a population and never care about whether they’re ranked as separate species.” This is not to suggest that species are unimportant. Personally I think we should group things in whatever way is useful.

*Cichlids are mouth brooding fish which include the Tilapia which is now popular in the States. This African group (known as Chambo in Malawi and Thlape (fish) in Botswana) reaches a high degree of diversity in Malawi. We used to take third year biology students at the University of Malawi to the lake for a week at Christmas time to study these and other wonders of the area.

Aztec Dancers

Toucan at KC Fair

Polly @ Fresno Fair

Skillin @ FCSS

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