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Orange County Focus

TUSTIN : They Spread Seeds Like Wildflowers

September 29, 1993|BERT ELJERA

She is a psychic. He is a retired professional football player. Together, they plan to cover the United States with a blanket of wildflowers.

Chip and Art Hunter are modern-day Johnny Appleseeds. They have embarked on a mission like that of the American folk hero who planted apple trees along the frontier more than 100 years ago.

Over 42 days, from April to late May, the Tustin couple traveled 13,000 miles and scattered 30 pounds of wildflower seeds in 175 places in 32 states. They plan to do it again in October, this time in the Pacific Northwest.

The goal is to beautify American highways. But it is also to create patches of wildflowers that will serve as living memorials to people who have died of AIDS.

"Every time a life is taken away, new life is given by way of the flowers," said Chip Hunter, 53, who said she is not an AIDS activist but simply someone who wants to promote the spirit of renewal in this country.

For Art Hunter, 55, who played 11 seasons in the National Football League, including four years with the Rams in the 1960s, the reason is much simpler: "I want people to say: 'Honey, look. Those flowers are beautiful.' Even football players appreciate flowers."

Hunter, a 6-foot-5, 287-pound two-time All-Pro player who retired after injuring his knee in 1966, said that sometimes friends make fun of his efforts.

"They say, 'Why would you be planting daisies?' But it's a fun effort. I don't mind spending the rest of my life doing it," said Hunter, who wears his grayish-brown hair in a ponytail and walks with a slight limp because of football injuries.

Although the effort to scatter wildflower seeds across the country is fun, it's also expensive, the Hunters said.

On their first trip, Chip Hunter said, they spent about $4,000, half of which came from their own pockets. Their budget of $50 a day for gas, food and lodging did not go very far, she said.

"We stayed in motels we were warned not even to enter," Chip Hunter said.

The Hunters, who were married in 1982, own a home in an affluent Tustin neighborhood and are now living on their savings.

In 1991, Chip Hunter said, she lost a bookstore, where she had held psychic sessions, after a partner suddenly left. Now she conducts her psychic business mostly at home.

Art Hunter lost his job as a financial consultant with Shearson Lehman Bros. two years ago. Each has two grown children from a previous marriage.

In their seeding trip last spring, Chip Hunter said, they drove to Chicago, stopping at several landmarks to scatter seeds. They also went to New Jersey, Maryland, South Carolina, Georgia and Arkansas, then came back to California through South Dakota, Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Nevada and Arizona.

Friends have called them to say the wildflowers have grown, Chip Hunter said, although she added that the Midwest floods came right after their seeding trip.

Last week, the Hunters were preparing for their next trip. In their garden, bedecked with blooming geraniums, begonias and lilies, the couple carefully, almost reverently, gathered tiny seeds and placed them in plastic containers.

"Each seed is a hundred seasons of wildflowers," Art Hunter said. "Wildflowers are forever."

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