Sad news

I just got in from a wonderful weekend on the road. I’ll have a full report and photos later, but in the meantime, I came home to find an e-mail from my mom that included a Southern Illinoisan article about the passing of a man I met only a few times but whose work I have loved for many years.

The Southern’s Ashley Wiehle reports:

Southern Illinois has lost a man who no doubt knew it better than most.

Jim Jung, prolific nature writer and author of annual Southern Illinois almanac “The Waterman & Hill Traveler’s Companion,” died at 54 on Thursday morning after what wife Ruby called a “brief but valiant battle with lung cancer.”

The former owner of Hillside Nursery on Oakland Avenue had written his almanac for a decade and also was known over the last year for his The Carbondale Times column.

Ruby, Jim’s wife of almost 33 years, said she believed her husband’s personality and knowledge about the area endeared him to people.

“He was interested in so many things,” Ruby said. “He loved natural things, archaeology, folklore. He was able to communicate his enthusiasms to other people, and I think that’s why they connected with him. If they showed the slightest interest in anything, he could tell them a lot about it.

“He was very widely read and mostly self-educated. He could put things together from disparate places and make connections.”

The late, great Hillside Nursery — with its gorgeous plants and even more impressive compost piles — would have been enough to earn Jim my eternal respect and admiration (after one memorable walk through the greenhouse with my friend Amy our junior year of college, I gave very serious thought to changing my major to horticulture, and the only thing that stopped me was the fact that I was three years into a four-year scholarship and wasn’t sure I could cram a whole new major into a single year) … but I owe him a much bigger debt for The Waterman and Hill-Traveler’s Companion, which he began publishing somewhere around the time Hillside closed.

I could always rely on Jim — or rather, Jim’s almanac — to tell me when I should head home to hear the chorus frogs sing in Makanda.

When I got to Tulsa, I discovered, much to my disappointment, that no similar publication existed for my area (to be perfectly fair, I’m not sure a similar publication exists anywhere on earth) — so I set up this blog to help myself keep track of the natural events going on in Tulsa, hoping it would eventually allow me to create my own lists of natural occurrences and anticipate the arrival of my favorite plants and animals each year.

Like every other project I’ve ever started, this one spun wildly out of control and wandered far from its original intended purpose … but while it’s far from being as detailed, as accurate, or as practical as Jim’s wonderful almanac, it has given me a place to rant, and it has, on occasion, helped me keep track of a few things going on in the garden. It’s also brought me some new friends — and reconnected me with some old friends.

For all of that, I owe Jim big-time.

The Southern reports that in lieu of flowers, Jim’s family has requested donations to either Green Earth Inc. or The Nature Conservancy.

A donation is floating through cyberspace, somewhere between my credit-card and the Nature Conservancy’s bank, at this very moment. If anybody out there really enjoys this blog, I’d strongly encourage you to show your appreciation by tossing a few bucks to Jim’s favorite causes, too, because without him, Red Fork Hippie Chick wouldn’t be online.

Travel well, Jim … and keep the compost aerated and the daisies watered for me until I catch up, would you?

With much love and appreciation,