How many of us would be able to say that, if we reach that age?
She now spends her days at the home the couple had built six decades ago.
On nice days, like some recent sunny days, a caregiver takes Fir around the property. Fir needs to use a walker, wheelchair or golf cart to get around.
Three years ago, she fell from a 12-foot ladder as she was pruning a branch and it snapped.
Says Fir, “This had been our life. We wanted to protect the land, we loved it so much.”
Since then, the county has acquired a couple more tracts by the Butler property, and what is now known as Rhody Ridge Arboretum increased from those initial 6 acres to a little more than 11 acres.
Fir grew up in Dallas and went to Southern Methodist University there, majoring in English.
By then she was using her nickname, instead of her legal first name, which was Founta.
As a youngster, she had been on a family driving trip that took them through the Cascades.
“I remember going through Stevens Pass. I just loved it. I had never been meant to live in flat plains,” says Fir. “I thought, ‘I don’t know how I’m going to do it, but this is where I want to live.’ ”
So she began calling herself after the forests she had seen on that trip.
Fir met a young guy who had served as an aircraft armorer in World War II and become a pharmaceutical salesman.
She and Merlin married in 1953.
“On our wedding day, we took off for here,” says Fir.
She worked as a secretary; Merlin continued in pharmaceutical sales. They rented a place to live and saved their money.
“Why go anywhere else? We always had the mountains,” says Fir. “When you’re climbing a mountain, you become part of the mountain.”
If you ask, Fir can show you the numerous card files, all meticulously itemized, and photo albums the couple kept.
One bunch of cards is for the various plants.
There is a kind of poetry in their utilitarian descriptions.
One card explains, “Removed all soil because of suspect Phytophthora (a pathogen) in area.” Another card describes one of the rhodies, “Mid to deep yellow, unusually tall candelabra type truss.”
Another bunch of cards is for their hikes, and the descriptions again are straightforward: “Mt. Rainier, Paradise, Skyline Trail. Went to near top of ridge with good view of Camp Muir — appeared to be about same distance as parking lot below.”
The photo albums include dozens of pictures of rhododendrons, and also of the mountain scenery. There are no photos of Fir and Merlin on those hikes. It was nature that mattered.
What will happen to all the card files and photos when the county takes over isn’t clear. A nonprofit, the Rhody Ridge Foundation, has been started.
Perhaps the material will be displayed, so that visitors can get an idea of who was behind this nature park, says Richard Fairfield, head of the foundation. He’s a retired Boeing engineer and has 400 rhododendrons on his own Snohomish property.
The foundation will have to figure out how to pay for maintenance, such as a new irrigation system. This year’s hot summer took a big toll on the plants. Money for that is not in the county budget.
Perhaps the home on the property will be turned into a meeting area, he says. Perhaps the site will be rented for weddings, perhaps there is grant money available.
Fir and Merlin did all they could to save the land.
Now Fir watches the passing of the seasons.
With its foliage, she says, “Fall is my favorite season,” and it is arriving.