When he noticed wood ducks were becoming scarce, he began building nesting houses for them. This was long before they were proclaimed an endangered species. Each year he bought numerous federal duck stamps because he assumed a part of the money the government collected would be used for preservation.
Eventually age and infirmity caught up with him at the age of 78, and he was forced to leave his cabin in the woods. He was a bachelor, and he lived in a nursing home three years before he passed away. When he went to the nursing home, someone came and dug his ginseng, even the immature roots that would have had little value. Ginseng then was selling for perhaps $70 a pound, far less than the $700 it recently reached on the international market. In subsequent years, the few plants that escaped the initial invasion were dug and eventually ginseng was eradicated from the place.
Uncle never harvested his ginseng, but he had the satisfaction of creating his large patch and the joy of watching it thrive on his woodland farm. To him, that was probably more valuable than any price per pound.
Donald Richter’s column appears every other week in the Commercial-News. He is a member of the Vermilion County Museum Board.