Mar 17, 2012
Buckminster Fuller and the Snake Farm in rural Sapulpa
3/11/2012 5:00:00 AM
South of Sapulpa, there's a distinct landmark, a white geodesic dome, with a sign on the gate that reads "Snake Farm." Locals use the Snake Farm on the corner of west 151st St. south and south 97th west Ave. to describe where they live. My family used to live a mile south of the Snake Farm.
Owner Mike Keeling lives there with his wife Lawanda. He's heard that pilots use his house as a reference point from the sky; it's been mentioned on the police scanner and by delivery drivers in Tulsa.
Mike and Lawanda moved from Tulsa to Sapulpa in 1970, and they built the 41 foot diameter dome a few years later. At that time, Keeling housed a menagerie of animals, such as snakes, alligators, skunks, badgers and porcupines. People would bring their kids out to the "Zoo" south of Sapulpa. After awhile, Mike says, "I got tired of burying old friends," and the animals gave way to a new passion. In 1985, Keeling started growing cactuses. A year later, it was an obsession. Now, he is awake by 4 a.m. and out in his greenhouse watering, collecting seeds, and keeping the plants warm in incubators. He spends at least 8 hours a day locked inside the peaceful greenhouse. He grafts plants on top of each other to create new, colorful ones, and he specializes in hard-to-find plants.
We walk through an expanse of cactuses, from seeds that have just sprouted to plants that are over one hundred years old, then we turn a corner, and down a few steps to another, connected greenhouse, full of even more. Keeling stops to touch the plants and talk about the stories behind them or comment on how unique they are. "It's no fun to raise stuff that everybody has."