Don Corrigan headshot

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson has been busy signing bills and vetoing bills sent to his desk from the state legislature. With the stroke of his pen, he has made some folks happy, others not so happy.

He killed a bill that would allow motorcyclists to ride without helmets. Libertarian, born-to-be-wild, poppin’ wheelie, road-wizard types aren’t happy. They will continue the fight to keep the government out of their riding gear.

Parson did sign a bill to make the paw-paw tree the official state fruit tree for Missouri. Libertarian, grow-native, eat-more-strange-fruit types are happy. They are rejoicing. The fight for paw-paw respectability has been a long, hard slog, but its time has finally arrived.

Carol Davit, editor of the Missouri Prairie Journal, sent out an effusive press release praising the paw-paw fruit, which she says is a cross between a banana and a papaya. It is a delightful, sweet-flavored fruit to top ice cream desserts, or to cook in pies or a custard.

Davit goes on to praise St. Louis New City School students who wrote letters and lobbied the legislature to pass the paw-paw measure. They even went to Jefferson City to explain agricultural, conservation and economic benefits of paw-paw power in Missouri.

I suspect Parson’s okay of the paw-paw law was an easier call than telling Easy Riders they must continue to strap on their brain buckets. After all, who wants the Hell’s Angels upset with you?

In the case of the paw-paw law, what’s not to like? Who is going to oppose a law giving more visibility to that great, delectable fruit found in Missouri’s partially-shaded, deciduous woodlands?

Sure, there are some fruit snobs who dismiss the incredible, edible paw-paw fruit as merely “the poor man’s banana.” And raccoons and possums are not going to like all the paw-paw publicity. These rodents will not relish competing with Show-Me-State humans this fall for a chance to chow on the ripening bounty of our official state fruit tree.

In any case, besides rodents and fruit snobs, who could possibly oppose the governor signing a paw-paw bill into law?

Me, that’s who!

My complaint stems from a terrible song called the “Paw-Paw Patch.” Back when I was in grade school, starting to get my Motown groove on, my sister came home from summer Girl Scout Camp with a very stupid song.

Hour-after-hour, day-after-day, I had to listen to Kathy sing “Picking up paw-paws; put ’em in a basket.” She repeated this refrain 50 times, only to break it up with “Way down yonder in the paw-paw patch.” Then, she’d start it all over.

I will not go after Parson with my paw-paw complaint. He will have his hands full with the brain bucket brigade.

Besides, I’m pleased he signed the bill to make Ozark Hellbenders the official state endangered species. To my knowledge, there are no obnoxious songs about our beloved “snot otters,” as some Ozark folks prefer to call them.

Ozark Hellbenders

Perhaps there should be a swan song devoted to the hellbenders, aka, “snot otters.” Any such song should include a stanza in praise of the Saint Louis Zoo, which has been hard at work for several years now in the effort to save the endangered Ozark Hellbender.

These large, slippery salamanders once thrived in Missouri streams. Now there are only a few hundred left in the wild, because our once-pristine waterways in the Ozarks are filling up with sediment, chemicals and an ample helping of horse poop from trail rides.

The Saint Louis Zoo has a hellbender breeding project that is addressing some of the issues affecting this now officially designated endangered species. And, our zoo is getting praise from all over the country for its work with hellbenders.

North Carolina wildlife diversity biologist Jeff Humphries, better known as “Hellbender Jeff” in his state, calls the zoo’s breeding project to save the hellbenders a “huge success.”

However, he adds this caveat: “How do you restore populations of hellbenders if their habitat is still polluted?” Ideally, we should restore the health of the rivers and then restock the hellbenders.