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Dennis Myers: State Things are back in the news

Melons are being teed up to become Nevada’s next State Thing.

Recently, the Desert Farming Initiative (DFI) said it will begin branding (with stickers) melons grown in Nevada, so that when people in, say, Denver, pick up a Nevada melon they will see “NEVADA MELON/ SINFULLY SWEET” imprinted on it.

It is DFI’s idea of using one product line to spread the idea that there is agriculture in Nevada. It seems that when folks in Wisconsin and Georgia think of Nevada, farming is not the first thing that comes to their minds – or even the tenth.

A DFI news release read, “All melons grown in the state are included within the campaign, such as watermelon, Crenshaw, casaba, honeydew and cantaloupe, including the ‘Sarah’s Choice’ and ‘Hearts of Gold’ varietals.”

But the part of the DFI news release that caught my attention was this: “Eventually seeking to position melons as the official state fruit, DFI is hoping to encourage industry growth for the dozens of Nevada melon farmers, along with economic growth for the state.”

Ah, State Things again. I wonder how many people know that three states – Virginia, Texas, and Oklahoma – have official state bats?

In Virginia it is the big-eared bat, also known as the Virginia big-eared bat, which explains how it was chosen for the state. Texas and Oklahoma have both named the Mexican free-tailed bat as their official bats. That kind of overlap is not uncommon. Nevada shares its state bird, the mountain bluebird, with Idaho and the desert tortoise with California as state reptile.

Nevada has official colors, trees, and locomotives, and an official seal, flag, march, flower, grass, bird, insect, animal, fish, artifact, metal, precious gemstone, semi-precious gemstone, soil, rock, and tartan, among other items.

To my knowledge, Nevada is the only state that has designated the ichthyosaur, from the Triassic period, as its state fossil, which it did in 1977. To further reduce the chance that another state would co-opt our state fossil, in 1989 the Nevada Legislature specified what TYPE of ichthyosaur is Nevada’s official fossil – genus Shonisaurus. (In both 1977 and 1989, there were those at the Legislature who argued that there were better candidates for fossil seated in the Legislature itself.)

The state song, “Home Means Nevada” is at least reasonably well known, since it is often taught in school. But it is also usually sung wrong. Inevitably it is rendered softly and melodically-but the composer, Bertha Raffetto, actually wrote it for march tempo. Naturally, we also have a state march, giving us two officially recognized marches.

In 2000, New York Times columnist Gail Collins proposed a solution to the malady she calls symbol clutter: “What this country needs is a mandatory sunset law for State Things. We could wipe the slate clean every 5 or 10 years and start over. Refilling the symbol supply might give citizens a new interest in state government; the state of Washington experienced an unprecedented degree of attention a few years back when a disc jockey started a movement to make ‘Louie, Louie’ the official state rock ‘n’ roll song. And frankly, a lot of the current honorees don’t seem to have been given much thought. We have way too many cardinals and robins out there in State Bird Land, and a lot of the mottos need work. I am thinking of you, Maryland (‘Manly deeds, womanly words’), and Michigan, whose motto sounds as if it had been written by a real estate developer. (‘If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look around you.’)”

When it came time for the Nevada quarter to be coined, a Nevada organization did us all a favor by organizing a campaign for wild horses to be depicted. We could have been saddled with the same old things – a showgirl, a miner and his burro.

On the other hand, while the wild horses went against the stereotype of Nevada and got people thinking of something other than legal gambling, I sometimes think a bow to the state’s history of unconventional industries would have been nice. Imagine the Nevada quarter with a lamppost. On one side of the lamppost, a mobster. Leaning against the other side of the lamppost, a hooker.

Dennis Myers is an award-winning journalist who has reported on Nevada’s capital, government and politics for several decades. He has also served as Nevada’s chief deputy secretary of state.

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