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Five Things: Claude Stephens On Cigar Boxes And A Jar Full Of Marbles

claude stephens
Photo: Submitted

My guest this week on Five Things is Claude Stephens, who works as an educator at Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest, just south of Louisville. But as he says, there are many other ways he moves through the world. In my ongoing quest to find thoughtful, surprising people for this show, Claude's name came up over and over again when I asked friends for recommendations. Professionally, he focuses on the ideas of play and nature, especially when it comes to children but also for adults. He's got lots of treasured objects, many of which are reminders for how he wants to live.

On his grandfather, who sparked his interest in nature:

"In the fall, he would put all the walnuts into the driveway, and then the cars would run over them and de-husk them. It doesn't crack the nut, it just pulls off that green husk from around them, and then he would have us [five] grandsons go out and crack the walnuts and pick out the meat. He would pay us a couple bucks for a cupful of black walnut meat. And at first I thought he just really loved black walnuts, but I don't think he did at all. I think that was a really efficient way to keep grandsons occupied for hours and hours and hours."

On his forty-some cigar boxes that contain daily mementos:

"These boxes sit on my dresser, and they're full of the ephemera of my life. Ticket stubs, a bumper sticker from a rally, the program from a play, a feather, a receipt. It's just the stuff that I run across, but for me they're stories, memories."

On his fondness for old photos:

"Another thing that I collect is other people's photo albums. Junk stores, antique stores, if I see a photo album that's still intact, I'll buy it. Then I go through those albums and I tease apart their life. Most people, especially older photos, the photos are of punctuated moments, special moments: a birthday, or Christmas. There are so many photos of people unwrapping Christmas presents and people blowing out birthday candles and weddings. But if you look in the background of all those photos, you see the everyday moments."