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In the beginning
Latimer began recording phenological events back in 1983 when he met Mary Barquist, a woman on his mail route who had been keeping records of natural events since the 1950s. She gave him some of her calendars, and he was hooked. Now his show is the most popular locally produced program on KAXE, and he says, “People are counting on me, and that’s always prodding me. In the back of my mind I keep thinking what’s new, what’s different today?
“People used to remark that this winter was a lot warmer than last year, and I could never remember,” Latimer says, “so I started keeping track. I began with a few records, just jotting them on an ordinary calendar. Then one Christmas my sister gave me the Minnesota Weatherguide calendar. That’s when I became aware that there was a method to the madness, that this thing I was doing had a name, and that the name is phenology.
“It starts off superficial,” he says. “First you notice the flowers on maple trees, and then you start noticing that when maple trees flower, the yellow-rumped warblers are back catching bugs at the maple trees that are flowering. The more you look at it, the more there is to know.”
KAXE Program Director Scott Hall has coproduced the “Phenology Show” since the beginning, and he admires Latimer’s passion for learning and respect for all different kinds of people. “John has a terrific sense of humor and a great laugh,” Hall says. “He’s the same in person or on the air. John is John. He talks right to people as if he were talking to his neighbor. He’s keeping track of our lives for us.”
Following the “Phenology Show,” Latimer cohosts “A Talk on the Wild Side” with Harry Hutchins, a natural resources instructor at the local community college. Hutchins attributes the success of the two shows to the time Latimer spends doing research once he discovers something new and unusual. “He’s very thorough. He doesn’t just give a date when he saw something,” Hutchins says.
Latimer’s mail route
Reaching across the front seat of his 1995 Dodge Caravan and out the passenger-side window, Latimer gently eases a spider onto the roof of a rickety country mailbox. “Watch out there, darlin’,” he says. “You stay on the lid. I don’t want you in the car because you’ll end up in somebody else’s mailbox.” The dashboard is littered with field guides, binoculars, a camera and a small tape recorder. As he spins down mile after mile of gravel road, Latimer scans the forest on either side. “Oh, look at those purple anemones,” he says, veering into the ditch. He unzips his camera case with one hand, stops the car abruptly and scoots across the seat to snap a close-up. A few miles farther along, he reaches for his tape recorder to report: “Wild plums continue to emerge. Seeing more of them in bloom today, and Juneberries are definitely popping out.”
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