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Dear Ms. and/or Mr. MacArthur Genius Grant Person

My name is Mike Nowak and, as you can see, I write a column for this very, very, very esteemed magazine. It’s full color and it’s glossy! As you can also see, my column is in a place of honor, on the very, very, very back page, just in front of a big fertilizer ad or something else of great importance to the horticultural community (they change it up every issue, just to keep me guessing).

I have personally spoken to your people in the past, before the restraining order was issued, so you might have a file on me somewhere in your office. No need to wade through all of those pages. Really. Just toss them in the recycling bin (I’m big on recycling). Even better, just burn them, which isn’t as environmentally sound as recycling but is ever so much more effective.

Allow me to get to the point.

You made me love you. I didn’t want to do it. I didn’t want to do it.

Perhaps it was the thought of being called a genius. Perhaps it was the $625,000.00 prize. Perhaps I just like the idea of being one of the “fellows” – camaraderie and all. “Rah! Rah! Go MacArthur! Yay!!” You choose.

But as I approached a long-delayed mid-life crisis, which I believe was caused by pursuing a career in horticultural and environmental radio, I began to understand that I have a unique and under-appreciated gift: I. Can. Kill. Any. Plant.

You might scoff at a statement like that. You might note that, anecdotally, many people think the same thing. Is it possible that if a scientific study were done, the anecdotal might become scientific reality? I see your ears perking up, much like on Mr. Spock after an egregiously ignorant pronouncement by Captain Kirk. You might also call my personal skill a kind of mad genius, because nobody can kill every plant!

Aha! I believe I have your full ears…er, attention. I shall continue.

Picture if you will, a tree that has miraculously survived for several hundred million years on a notoriously unstable planet. Its name: Ginkgo biloba, the only living species in the phylum Ginkgophyta. In the 21st Century, this tree is widely used in the urban environment. Why? Because it can handle pollution and survive being put in a hole in the middle of a sidewalk outside of a box store, that’s why! Insects seem to leave it alone, as do pathogens, perhaps because they’re terrified of being on the wrong end of karma, where they might return in a second life as human beings.

Now imagine this tree in the backyard of somebody who has the super power to be able to kill anything green. Have you seen any of the Avenger movies? The Hulk would be a goner against me.

When I receive my ginkgo as a gift, it is no more than a foot tall, perhaps less, in a one gallon pot. I have no idea where to site it in my yard, so I slam it into the soil. A few months later, I move it to another position. A few months after that, I move it again. Regardless of my attempts to kill it or just set it back, it simply adapts to the new site and continues to grow.

I become aware that radical tactics are in order. Step 1) I decide that the best place for it is under the high power lines that come into my home (you can’t make this stuff up), where it thrives and reaches into untold megawatts of potential danger. Step 2) I place a benign, lovely plant called sweet woodruff around its base as a ground cover.

Watch, now, my genius in action. You’re thinking that Step 1) was the issue, but you would be mistaken. The sweet woodruff forms a matt that could strangle a raccoon. Long story short, the tree begins to decline, and when I pull the ground cover away from the trunk, I see that the moist, impermeable environment of the sweet woodruff has caused rot to spread around the entire trunk, killing what is otherwise an indestructible plant.


Sorry. Don’t know where that maniacal laugh came from. It doesn’t happen very often. Anyway, please consider my request.


Mike “Ultimate Green Killer” Nowak
(the super hero name I will be sending to Marvel Comics)


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