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Cross Pollination

My thoughts were not on my dad’s apple trees while I watched the weather that week. They centered on myself and my level of comfort working at a local organic farm over the weekend with a group of Girl Scouts and their mothers. Their path circled and sunk me deeper into the couch cushions during each morning’s weather report. I reminded myself that I was looking forward to doing chores, being outside and learning how to make cheese. I told myself that despite having worked a full week at my new job, I didn’t have anything more fruitful planned to do around the house. As luck would have it, the sun came out for the first weekend in May.

During breakfast at the farm on Sunday, Tricia, the employee who worked HR responsibilities into her job description chatted with me while her son interviewed for a camp position. Only a few months earlier she had led me through wind chill and sodden gravel ruts around the farm after filling out new hire paperwork. I tried to mirror her sunny tone when she said, “Sorry to lose you. We knew you were a good one.”

“I know. But, I really want to work weekends when I can. It’s great to talk to people here.” I said it. Did I really believe it?

She nodded, readjusting her sunglasses atop her head. “I’m sure they’ll be some cross pollination.”

I stared at her painted toenails vibrant in open toed sandals. It was sunny, but not that warm. For some reason my mind heard my dad’s story about all the girls who had showed up to detassle corn in short shorts hoping to get a tan. They had returned home red, not from sunburn but from cuts received as they waded through stalks and leaves. She was a little too optimistic maybe. It wasn’t that warm, yet. But, cross pollination. . . I felt myself beginning to open to that possibility.

“You’re right. I kind of already did at a nutrition class that discussed how we think about recipes and grocery shopping. You know, that selecting a particular food or a food produced in a particular way will have a cost later on that may be higher than the apparently low economical cost in the supermarket aisle.”

For those who wonder, "Cross pollination is when one plant pollinates a plant of another variety. The two plants' genetic material combines and the resulting seeds from that pollination will have characteristics of both varieties and is a new variety. Sometimes cross pollinating is used intentionally in the garden to create new varieties."

After the cloud free skies at the farm became night, they lightened only from black to gray for weeks. Spitting rain and unexplained bluster wrapped itself around the office building. I wore sweaters again to work where I dug for resources. During my first two weeks in my office, I filled days reading and talking and watching my new colleagues in their programs. Imagined wings twitched to fan black and yellow. Their energy stoked a fire, one began with kindling in Guatemalan highlands many professional lifetimes ago. Wellness. Economy. Agriculture. Nutrition. I googled Environmental Education standards for WI.

Heavy clouds showed the rounded shadow of folded pages. “You can do whatever you want,” the words were my only instructions, but somehow not a map out of the hive. I drove the same highway to work every day. My mind did not have the same expanse of hours to buzz from idea to idea as it had in other commutes. Where they rested each morning at the left turn was a billboard calling for field workers to help pollinate corn. Leaves revealed petals, blunt edges rounded from the reconfigured sheets of my résumé. Buds ever waiting, relaxed slightly to reveal the possibility of opening, of receiving. I simply needed to walk between the planted rows.

I observed classes and conversations. Since my login information was still not available, I flew from shelf to shelf in my colleagues’ offices looking for resources to feed the flames. I carried a stack of binders from one office back to my own. Atop the pile rested a book, Everyone Leads: Its sticker said it had been given to many by a project that from all my searching appeared to no longer exist. It was all there, ready to become the log cabin fire building style designed to maintain hot coals. I had learned how to build a fire that same weekend with the Girl Scouts.

“Be, know, do,” Schmitz quoted the army paradigm for leadership. He discussed at length both the jolt of surprise at finding the army encouraging critical thinkers, leaders at all levels, instead of blind followers. I felt the sigh of scent. The paper blossom released more tension. I continued reading and Schmitz encouraged the importance of the leader knowing themselves, “be”, before espousing knowledge or demonstrating action. Teachers are leaders. Teacher. Leader. The words are synonyms I had once said. The blossom beckoned bees not confined by one professional identity. I stared outside, grateful for my window and heard my father’s own view.

“But bees are less and less each year,” Dad lamented. “They don’t stay with my apple trees. End up in the alfalfa. And that water bucket. They drink there until they die. Lazy,” he laughed, though he didn’t find it funny. “Don’t know how to get them to work.”

“Dear Robin Norwood,” I had once written as part of my worry that I was not enough so I picked projects with people who needed me, or that I could at least convince needed me to do what was supposed to be done. Yet, I held to the intelligence I illustrated in connecting cross purposes. In pruning strategically so that the plant would be prepared for its fruit, not only prepared, focused. Even recently reading a nonfiction text about female narrative, Jane Addams had exemplified the erased intentionality of women in public efforts.

“According to Harry Boyte, Jane Addams, the great social reformer, warned in 1902 ‘about the emergence of a class of professional “experts”, as she described them, who saw themselves outside the life of the people. In her view, detached expertise reinforced existing hierarchies base on wealth and power and created new forms of hierarchical power that threatened the everyday life of communities.’ She proved herself quite prescient.” (137)

While perhaps her comments about the illusion of experts could be interpreted as another example of her own false belief in downplaying her strategic efforts, Schmitz’s inclusion took me back to the root, to the trunk, to the reasoning behind pruning and cutting down dead trees. Development work. Orchards were bent to our purpose my dad too often reminded me.

A colleague invited me to spend the day with her school during wellness week. I felt grateful to have a reason to leave the compartments of the office where others had the ingredients to produce honey. I participated in presentations that integrated a blender bike. I also expressed sadness at the banana peels thrown in the regular garbage and plastic cups used and discarded within moments after sweet drops of fruit smoothie passed through the children’s lips.

At one point my colleague said, “You’re so good.” And the bud opened in the rain, bees absent. Its invitation ignored as softness fluttered to the ground ignored. Rain remained, not always forceful drops, but always there, even as veiled mist. Blossoms bit back their urges to open. More wrinkles and folds appeared on worried skin than satin petals. The neighbor who keeps bees at our house had started his hives anew. The previous community had died over the winter.

I sent her the Wisconsin standards for Environmental Education. My colleague stopped by later that afternoon. I was jealous of yet another blazer and snappy shoe combination. If nothing else, her flare reminded me we were pollinators, but not drones. Still, this time the foundation of her shoes was a floral print just like a pair of my own.

“I own those shoes. Sort of.” I moved closer to where she was perched on a vacant desk. “They have straps across but the bottom part of the wedge is the same. In fact that was why I bought them, for the flowers.”

“So, we could be twins.”

“Yeah, I need it to be warmer though.”

Pricked antenna guided the conversation back to the Environmental Education tab on the Department of Public Instruction website. “It would be perfect.”

“Yeah, I mean the health part alone. It lists those standards and the wellness part without addressing waste, it’s-” I paused. “It’s a Band-Aid,” I struggled and still came up with an inaccurate description.

My colleague quickly offered another. “It’s a portion.”

Yes, a portion, of pollen. I turned and cracked my window. Last year the rain continued through peak pollination time. Another few days revealed bright sun over well spread petals. “You know, apple trees not pollinated would have meant no fruit until next year. Now, I bet I get too much.”

I hear my father again. Underneath those words are the always words, “You can do whatever you want.”

Schmitz, Paul. (2012). Everyone Leads: Building Leadership from the Community Up.

Jossey-Bass: San Francisco.

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