miss rumphius


Remember her? The story by Barbara Cooney about a woman who sprinkles lupine seeds as she goes about her days – her contribution to making the world a more beautiful place.

The story is based on a real person, Hilda Hamlin, who immigrated to the U.S. from England in the early 1900’sSome lovely info on her (and lupines) here.

The idea of sharing joy.

How is it possible not to relate?

Every time I blow the fluff off a dandelion I think of grateful bees. And the stones that have been painted with messages and left everywhere during the pandemic or the domino effect of a kind word to a cranky cashier or leaving money in a parking meter as a happy surprise for someone you’ll never see

– all variations of lupines.


I’ve been (again) paring down my bookshelves. This is a regular thing but I’m being more ruthless than usual and finding treasures to both read (why haven’t I read this??? I keep asking) and to part with. Some are donates, some are for a library I manage in a women’s shelter, others shout out the name of someone I know and demand to be taken or sent to them. This last part feels slightly lupiney if lupine work is meant to be something that feels good in the process of spreading smidgens of happy surprise.

I’m also going through old photos and finding things I no longer want to keep but that might mean something to someone else. The picture a friend sent decades ago of herself and strangers (to me) at an outback pub in Australia where a handwritten sign on the porch informs that a bush band will be playing that night. The band isn’t named. People sit outside at picnic tables and a young tanned girl, long blonde pony tail and red shorts, is running bare-chested, while another, older girl, twelve maybe, stands primly, shyly, in a below the knee length calico dress and ankle socks next to a man in a cork hat. Both look warm and not recently bathed. The pub is made of roughly hewn wood, thrown together in the middle of what looks like scrub land, a mirage you’re thrilled to come by for a cool one, and maybe a snake sighting while you sip. I’ve sent that photo back to my friend and can’t wait to hear the stories attached to it. Maybe I’ve heard them before… but it’s been a while.

To a nephew, now grown with his own family, I’ve sent a series of pictures I took when he was ten or so and skipping stones at the beach, complete with a final shot of him, both arms up in the hooray! position. His son plays baseball, thought maybe he’d like to show him where he gets his throwing chops from.

And the blank postcards I’m finding in albums. Sunsets and trolley cars, adobe houses. No point in keeping them, so they too are being sprinkled like lupines, with messages scrawled on the backs that sometimes relate to the images on the front and sometimes don’t.

And so on.

It’s brilliantly fun this finding and sending, apropos of nothing, attached to notes that open conversations that would never have been had otherwise.


So… Dear Miss Rumphius:  thank you.



8 thoughts on “miss rumphius

  1. Years ago I knocked on the door of a woman whose house I pass every day and asked if I could take some seed from the native lupines that bloom in the ditch in front of her house every June. I love all manner of lupines, but the native ones are my favourites. (Although I think your metaphoric ones are my new favourite.) Lupine seeds are said to be hard to germinate, which I’ve since found isn’t true, so I carefully scratched up the seed with sandpaper and sowed them on my driveway bank. Now, every year I collect seed from my own patch and sow it around the bank, so my patch keeps getting bigger. I expect by the time I die the whole bank will be covered in lupines in June, and people driving by will say, “That’s where the wacky lupine lady lived.”

    That’s such a great idea to pass on the pictures, especially the childhood ones of people now grown.

    1. Oh, Leslie, I love the image of your lupine-scattered driveway! I didn’t know about scratching the seed. Thanks for that tip. We used to have many happy lupines self sowing in the backyard gardens but then joe-pye and black-eyed susan, echinacea, bee balm, etc., starting moving in and I like to let my meadow-y flowers sort themselves out, see who wins, what plants takes control, how/if the others get it back in subsequent years. For instance, the once abundant joe-pye began being overrun by bee balm and was almost completely gone one year. I nearly intervened but then decided no, I wanted to see how nature would handle things (though I did kinda hold my breath)… happily the joe-pye came back a couple of years ago and is now stronger and more abundant than ever. Survival of the fittest I guess. But the lupines in all this have truly taken a beating. Someone told me they do NOT like competition so this meadow that’s been growing around them must be driving them batty. I still have a few hangers on, bless them, and celebrate them every year. But will collect seeds in spring, thanks to a wacky lupine lady I know.

      1. I take the same approach as far as seeing how nature handles things. I wonder about the joe pye – I don’t know about yours but mine takes forever to come up in the spring, and I imagine if there is competition nearby it might get quite a jump on things and overtake the joe pye. I’m glad yours came back. It adds so much to a garden late in the year.

        1. Yes, every year (ever since it disappeared) I think it’s gone again but then, poof, it pops up… eventually. Despite its size it seems such a quiet, unassuming thing, not-showy-yet-wonderfully-attractive and so at home in a meadow. One of my favourites.

  2. Oh my goodness, a soul sister, if this post is any indication. Came here via Kerry Clare and was delighted to read this post. I do many of the same sorts of things for the same reasons.

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