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This Week’s Heat Wave, and Humor, Mark The National Arboretum’s Annual Cookout

More than 500 guests, shaded under a tent, celebrated Missouri with barbecue and an award.
Guests relax and listen as Peter H. Raven gives his acceptance speech after receiving the National Arboretum’s Excellence Award. Photograph by Carol Ross Joynt.

Holding a tent party in Washington in June requires a well-developed sense of perspective.“Whoever was responsible for the weather, thank you,” Barbara Shea, board chair of the Friends of the National Arboretum, said over the multitude of floor fans at the group’s annual cookout Tuesday night. A crowd of 550 horticulturists, business leaders, and politicians gathered despite the heat, humidity, and threats of gusty thunderstorms. “We’ve sometimes had dramatic weather for this event,” said Shea. “Heat is the least of our worries.”

Each year, according to honored tradition, the cookout celebrates a different state. This year it was the “Show Me” state, Missouri, and for that reason, almost the entire Missouri congressional delegation was in the tent, including senators William Lacy Clay and Roy Blunt, who went table to table to say hello to friends; and representatives Emanuel Cleaver, Vicky Hartzler, Billy Long, Jason Smith, Rodney Frelinghuysen, Earl Blumenauer, and Tom Petri. Representing DC were council members Kenyan McDuffie and Tommy Wells, who was there with his wife, Barbara.

As part of the state recognition, the Arboretum Excellence Award was presented to Peter H. Raven, president emeritus of the Missouri Botanical Garden and a recipient of the US National Medial of Science. He has a long résumé of public garden development, scientific research, and published works, among them Butterflies and Plants: A Study in Coevolution and the textbook Biology of Plants. When she introduced Raven, Barbara Shea recalled that earlier in the day he had participated in a public “conversation” about his work. “Most of our interns came to that event because they wanted to see the man who wrote the book they learned plant sciences from.”

Raven, who just turned 78, was gracious and appreciative in his acceptance speech, but seemed, too, to be keenly aware of politics, given the mix of elected officials listening to him. He talked about global warming. “Liberals love to say that global warming is happening and that everybody should shut down everything.” On the other hand, he said, “Conservatives are still hanging on to the outmoded view that it isn’t really happening at all.” His opinion? “Global warming is merely a consensus of the world’s scientific community arrived at by a rational process.”

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