Cypress Knees, Electric Vehicles, Texas Wild Rice, and Other Profiles in Alternative Living

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Tom and Virginia Gaskins have been collecting, selling, and displaying cypress knees since the late 1930s.
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Kirby Brumfield and family were inspired by MOTHER EARTH NEWS to make a movie about people across the U.S. who are working on their own alternative energy projects.

In celebration of little-known MOTHER EARTH NEWS-type folks from all over who are dedicated to alternative living.


Tom Gaskins: Cypress Knee Museum

It
all began back in 1937, when Tom and Virginia Gaskins moved to
Palmdale, Florida and established a homestead on the edge of the
Fisheating Creek Swamp. The couple built a home roofed with hand-split
shingles … and started collecting cypress knees. 

Cypress knees, for those who may not
know, are protuberances–usually roughly conical in shape and from one to
nine and a half feet in height–that develop around the towering trees
for which they are named. Tom soon discovered that–when steamed,
debarked, and then covered with a mildew preventive–the growths became
beautiful, natural sculptures which could easily be marketed. A small ad
in a national magazine launched the Gaskins’ business, but the family
kept the very best specimens–many of which are suggestive of people and
animals–to be placed in their Cypress Knee Museum.

In
1951 Tom and Virginia began charging a $1.00 admission fee (which
remains the same today) to view their collection. For thirty years
now–in both summer and winter–tourists have filled the museum. Each
year, visitors find a horde of new wonders to behold … because as long
as the Fisheating Creek Swamp replenishes Mother Nature’s supply of
wooden figures, the Gaskins keep adding to their treasure house!–MikeSmith.

Renton Patterson: Thundervolts 1, 2, and 3

There’s a remarkable teacher at Fellowes
High School in Pembroke, Ontario who’s incorporating concern for the
environment with technical skills. Renton Patterson has, you see, been
helping his shop classes to build electric vehicles.

Patterson
started his program in 1975 when he guided his students in the design
and construction of Thundervolt 1, a 1950’s MG powered by eight 12-volt
batteries (borrowed from an auto mechanics shop) and two used motors
(obtained from a California aircraft surplus company). The car–which
cost the school budget $115–achieved a final travel range of 15 miles at
25 MPH. The admirable outcome of that first project led to Thundervolts
2 and 3: The former is an electric boat, which can maintain a top speed
of 10 MPH for about 40 minutes … the latter an electrically powered
AspenVolare, which boasts a range of 65 miles at 30 MPH.

Renton
is enthusiastic about the success of his program. “No amount of
standard classroom instruction,” says Patterson, “can ever hope to equal
the contribution to student growth and development that a hands-on
project of this nature can provide! “–Helen Mason.

Dr. Bill Emery: Texas Wild Rice

Dr. Bill Emery first observed Texas wild rice (Zizania texana) when he began teaching at Southwest Texas State University in 1957. The plant–which was not known to be growing anywhere else in the world–was native to the San Marcos River, and Emery could see that it was on its way to extinction. Therefore, he set out to transplant some of the rice to nearby locations in the hope that it would flourish, and–to the professor’s surprise–the plant (which had previously been reproducing by vegetative methods only) began a pattern of flowering, seed production, and aerial pollination. With the seed, Bill was able to find other areas where the rice would grow, and his success finally pulled Zizania texana out of the danger zone.

As a result, Emery began phase two of his project: hybridization and selection … crossing Texas wild rice–which is both high in nutritional value and capable of thriving in streams, swamps, marshes, and even tundra–with other strains in an effort to create a new, commercially desirable variety. “We’ve exploited most of the agricultural land that can grow wheat and corn,” says Dr. Emery. “It will take new crops that utilize new habitats to produce the additional food needed for our exploding population. “–Heber Taylor.

Kirby Brumfield and Family: Alternative Energy Movie

My
father was first introduced to MOTHER EARTH NEWS back in late 1975 as
he was passing through a tiny town in eastern Oregon. Dad thumbed
through pages brimming with solar projects, wind machines, and stories
about folks working their way toward energy independence … and from
the moment he read that issue, he began making plans to turn MOTHER
EARTH NEWS-type articles into a 16mm movie.

My
father’s enthusiasm was so overwhelming that the whole family soon
volunteered to assist, and before long the Brumfield clan (Papa Kirby,
Brother Kirby, Mama Mena, and Sister Lee) took off on an alternative
energy odyssey. We followed your stories across the country, meeting the
nicest of people and recording the most fascinating of exploits. Our
goal was to capture the joy, drive, and enthusiasm of “them that’s doin’
” … and after more than a year of weekends, vacations, and midnight
hours, we’d finally produced a film.

“Backyard
Alternative Energy” was a hit at the annual meeting of the Oregon
Community Services Administration … and requests to view our
masterpiece began pouring in. Then, in 1979, our work of art received
the highest of honors when the filmlauded by the Council on International Nontheatrical Events (CINE) as one of the nation’s best nontheatrical movies–became the proud recipient of CINE’s Golden Eagle award! –Lee Brumfield.

In Brief …

Thanks to Stanford University student PETER AXELSON, paraplegics can now enjoy downhill skiing. Axelson has invented a sled-like device called the Arroyo. The vehicle is made of molded fiberglass and has two stainless steel “rudders” that allow it to be maneuvered with the aid of short ski poles and the skier’s shifted body weight. (The Arroyo comes equipped with a quick-release evacuation harness for use in an emergency.)

Two California Institute of Technology researchers, DOROTHY SETTLE and CLAIR PATTERSON, have found that tuna packed in lead-soldered cans (as most brands are) may contain 50 times as much of the metal as fish packed in nonsoldered tins. Patterson and Settle–who contend that “half the lead in the American diet originates from such containers”–are urging that the cans be banned because they constitute a serious threat to public health.

ROY KAIN is one of the few remaining experts in the vanishing art of handcrafting carriages and buggies. The 38-year-old resident of Wellsboro, Pennsylvania learned his skill during a seven-year apprenticeship under a master carriagemaker. He can turn out one of the wooden rigs in from eight to ten days. Kain’s pony-sized and horse-sized models sell for approximately $400 and $550, respectively.–JV.

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