The Real Miss Rumphius-the Lupine Lady of Maine

 

Dear Reader:

One of the most endearing children’s stories has got to be Miss Rumphius. The last time I got a copy of this story was from one of my teacher cadets at Charleston Southern University. She gave it to me as a parting gift for being her supervisor one year. So sweet!

The day we had the picnic in Acadia National Park (Maine) at the College of the Atlantic in Anne’s “secret garden”… I asked if there were lupines growing…because suddenly, among all the beautiful plants around the bench where we picnicked, the story of Miss Rumphius came to mind…  she planted lupines in Maine.

Excitedly I started looking around for them but was told that we had missed the season…lupines bloom in spring and early summer. By October they are gone until the next spring season. I was really disappointed. The little story of a fictional character planting lupines throughout the state of Maine always captured my imagination.

If I had known then that the story was based on a real person…it would have just added to the excitement!

In the fictional story…Barbara Cooney, the author and  neighbor to the real lupine lady, starts her book by writing:

Miss Rumphius, The Lupine Lady lives in a small house overlooking the sea. In between the rocks around her house grow blue and purple and rose-colored flowers. The Lupine Lady is little and old. But she has not always been that way.”

*Today the original artwork from this book is housed in Bowdoin College as a tribute to Barbara Cooney- author and illustrator.

The real Miss Rumphius, Hilda Hamlin, is at least partly responsible for the gorgeous show of lupines throughout Maine’s countryside in early summer. The wildflowers thrive in Maine, but they aren’t native to the state. How they got there and spread in such profusion is a mystery explained only by – well, an old lady who was the real Miss Rumphius.

Hilda Edwards arrived in South Bristol, Maine, from Bristol, England, in 1904, at the age of 15.

There were no roads to Christmas Cove, Maine at the time. Hilda had to take a train to Newcastle and then a mail launch down a nearby river.

She attended Smith college, married and had three sons. In 1929, however she left her husband in Paris, and returned to Smith College to audit classes and live in Christmas Cove, Maine during the summer.

It was during this time (she was now in her sixties) that she began planting lupine seeds imported from her native England. (They are used there primarily to stabilize the soil) Every August she cut bundles of lupine stalks and shook out their seeds over a wider and wider spaces and land.

Soon she began putting seeds in her pocket when she walked to the post office and strewing them along the roadside. She did it in secret, rarely telling anyone about her lupine obsession. Some friends knew.

The real Miss Rumphius didn’t drive, and when friends gave her a ride they’d catch her tossing lupine seeds out the window. They called her ‘Hilda Lupina’ or the ‘Lupine Lady.’

One day a reporter came for an interview and laughed at a sign outside her home. W. Storrs Lee in a 1971 article for Yankee magazine visited Hilda Hamlin for an interview, noting the spectacular display of lupines along Route 129. He also noted a handwritten sign next to a woodpile: “If friends of Hilda Hamlin would tote a few sticks of wood to her cottage, they would be doubly welcome.”

Even though Hilda got a late start planting and spreading lupines in Maine (in her sixties) she lived into her nineties… so she got a lot of planting done! She had a wonderful sense of humor and when a lady stopped her one day and asked if she knew who the “Lupine Lady” was she pointed in one direction and replied:

At the end of this road lives a queer old bird who has so many hundreds of lupines on her land that she has acquired the habit of cultivating the seed when it opens.

The excited lady said she’d like to shake her hand. “Shake,” said Hamlin. “I am Hilda Lupina.”

A picture of her Hilda’s home in Maine and the illustration from the book.

So until tomorrow…the fictional story (like I feel sure the real Hilda Hamlin would say ) ends with these words:

“You must do something to make the world more beautiful.”

“Today is my favorite day”  Winnie the Pooh

 

A shout-out to Joan Turner…Happy Birthday! I hope you have a fantastic day with many more to come!

Come on down to the lowcountry soon…it’s been a long time since I have seen you!

About Becky Dingle

I was born a Tarheel but ended up a Sandlapper. My grandparents were cotton farmers in Laurens, South Carolina and it was in my grandmother’s house that my love of storytelling began beside an old Franklin stove. When I graduated from Laurens High School, I attended Erskine College (Due West of what?) and would later get my Masters Degree in Education/Social Studies from Charleston Southern. I am presently an adjunct professor/clinical supervisor at CSU and have also taught at the College of Charleston. For 28 years I taught Social Studies through storytelling. My philosophy matched Rudyard Kipling’s quote: “If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.” Today I still spread this message through workshops and presentations throughout the state. The secret of success in teaching social studies is always in the story. I want to keep learning and being surprised by life…it is the greatest teacher. Like Kermit said, “When you’re green you grow, when you’re ripe you rot.”
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5 Responses to The Real Miss Rumphius-the Lupine Lady of Maine

  1. Carol Poole says:

    My old friend Miss Rumphius. I still use her story to illustrate ways that man has changed his environment in my geography classes. I think someone in Iceland must have read. Her story because there are millions of Alaskan Lupines all over the rugged landscapes around Iceland. They planted the Lupines as a hedge against erosion. Mother Nature took over and multiplied the flowers to the point that entire hillsides are purple. Beautiful!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Becky Dingle says:

      The young couple who lived across the street from me just returned from Iceland and they are ready to move there…how beautiful it was and the lupines!

      Like

  2. bcparkison says:

    Not really sure they grow down here but Imay need to find some seed and give it a try. They are so,so pretty.

    Like

  3. What a great story. That last line convicted me. Do something to make the world more beautiful. And that she was in her sixties means it is not too late for me to start. Thanks for a real motivating post.

    Like

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