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Missoula's rash of flower thefts, and Cool Water Hula

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This is what happened: The 1970’s Oldsmobile stopped in the alley, engine idling, and a little old lady emerged, wearing hot-lavender polyester pants. She proceeded, in purely primal fashion, to break off branch after branch from a lilac tree, tossing the blossoms into the back seat, before getting back into her car and fleeing the scene.

While those who pick flowers without permission might get away with lenient karmic sentencing on the grounds that they were temporarily pollen-drunk, those who dig up whole plants are in another category altogether. Jean Parker of the Native Plant Society notes that there have been several instances of flower theft from the native plant gardens on campus. In particular, entire trillium and bitterroot plants have been taken. The UC gardens have experienced plant theft as well, and downtown business owners have also complained about new plantings being dug up by herbophiles who have strayed to the dark side.

Bob Gray, local iris expert, notes that his experience with plant theft has been limited to flower picking, usually by kids. “There’s no way you can stop them” he says. “If you jump the kids, they get mad and come back and knock down the whole bed. Besides, they usually just want to give their mother some flowers.”

But that hasn’t stopped Gray from forming his own neighborhood flower patrol, staffed by reformed flower stealers with whom he has been able to channel their obvious love of flowers into a preservationist ethic. And the best way, according to Gray, of obtaining flowers is to knock on his door and ask. He will grab his clippers and snip you some buds. You can call the Missoula Iris Society at 543-3480.

Would you like to hula for the environment? Artist Kristi Hager will teach and lead the ancient Hawaiian dance to anyone who’s concerned about water contamination at Milltown Dam, just seven miles away from Missoula, in time for this weekend’s second Cool Water Hula.

Hager refers to the event as an “art action,” offering people the chance to express their concerns in a non-confrontational manner. She is quick to point out that this is not a protest or a forum for people to give speeches. Rather, her goal is simply to bring awareness to the dam, contaminated as it is by toxic residue from years of mining upriver, and to initiate community involvement. “We want to bring our creative talents into the mix with the politics and the science and finances of looking at the Milltown Dam,” Hager explains.

The Cool Water Hula is a second for Hager, who led 156 dancers at the Berkeley Pit last year. Although the toxic water in the pit remained unchanged, Hager considered the participation of the community a success. “When people sing and dance, their thoughts and feelings get integrated and it hits them at a deeper level,” she says.

For those who wish to take part in this weekend’s class-action hula, there will be a final rehearsal at the Hellgate Playing Field at 10 a.m. on Saturday. Then at noon, the group will perform at the Milltown Dam Park. Hager promises to keep the choreography simple so that even land-locked Montanans will be able to follow the dance, which imitates the fluidity of the sea.

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