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Dr. George Washington Carver

“Anything will give up its secrets if you love it enough.”

In February, it is customary to put up images of Dr. George Washington Carver in our schools as part of Black History Month. Most people see his earnest and humble stare coming from the cheerful posters and think, “Oh, the peanut guy.” But he was much more than that, perhaps even the greatest scientist who ever lived. Black or white.

George Washington Carver is one of the greatest scientists who ever lived, period.

George Washington Carver is one of the greatest scientists who ever lived, period.

To understand Dr. Carver and his basic philosophy is to understand the way out of the situation that we find ourselves in today, because his was a philosophy of hope. He marveled at the simple truth that the land was capable of providing an amazing bounty if only we took the time to understand it – indeed, to love it enough. To him, it was a matter of understanding just what we have and appreciating it completely.

Among his many achievements we have to count the introduction of the soybean to this continent. Peanuts were not enough, and he quickly came to realize that as soil-replenishing legumes went, the soybean was king. Every time you see acres of these planted across the Midwest, that’s Dr. Carver. He was able to do this because he didn’t just sit in his lab finding new uses for these plants – he went out into the field and worked with the people who needed them to see how it all fit in firsthand.

But these are the accomplishments of his lifetime. What is even greater than the long laundry list of what he did is the gentle way of life that he cultivated as carefully as any of his crops. That’s where he is still relevant today.

Agriculture made this nation.  It's in trouble now.

Agriculture made this nation. It’s in trouble now.

America today is largely dependent on other nations for its energy. This is the case despite our stripmining of the soil for an tremendous amount of plant fiber and carbohydrate in many different forms. Our agriculture and forestry produces an amazing amount of paper products, food waste, and related material that eventually becomes the garbage we consider to be a problem. What would Dr. Carver say about that?

He would tell us that we need to understand what we have, and learn to work with it. He would sit down with the garbage that we generate and realize the amazing amount of methane, which is to say natural gas, can be generated from it. He would find new long chain hydrocarbons that were burnable from the various plant wastes that we have. He would find ways of using life itself to make a miracle from these materials, much as life always does.

Hope springs eternal.

Hope springs eternal.

To me, the bottom line on all of the problems facing us today is that we like to think of technology as a great savior and our ability to plan as the one true way out of the situation. I think that’s not only hooey, but dangerous hooey at best. As we staple up the pictures of Dr. Carver this month, the least we can do is to understand what the man stood for. To him, a better life for his people took nothing less than a miracle, but that miracle was found in the hope of every spring.

What do we have? How can we make use of it? How much love will it really take to make these simple miracles work for us? The short answer is that we have to start loving and see where it goes. That’s the lesson of Dr. Carver, a true hero among scientists.

“Anything will give up its secrets if you love it enough. Not only have I found that when I talk to the little flower or to the little peanut they will give up their secrets, but I have found that when I silently commune with people they give up their secrets also – if you love them enough.”

– Dr. George Washington Carver

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