"It demonstrates uniquely a biblical parable: I am the vine. You are the branches. Remain in me, and you will be fruitful. Love for the world. Hope for the hopeless." So said dancer Kathleen Mielke Villalobos, describing a rosebush growing on the east face of her family's San Diego home.
The depth of Villalobos' sentiments are partially explained by the shrub's recent induction into the 2004 Guinness World Records (GWR) book: Officially measured at 11 feet, 1 inch, it's been crowned world's tallest rosebush.
Stuart Claxton, a researcher based in GWR's New York office, said the record-keeping ethos is about celebrating the extraordinary ideas of everyday people. GWR annually receives 50,000 inquiries from people who have ideas for new records or who want to break one of 40,000 previously set records in GWR's database-perhaps the furthest distance walking on water or largest annual food fight. To qualify, a proposal should capture the public imagination and be verifiable, measurable and breakable-records are, after all, made to be broken.
"We do get things that we're just not quite interested in, like most objects in a tree, the oldest sock-that kind of thing," Claxton said.
One recent, high-profile record proposal GWR turned down involved an ongoing stunt by American illusionist David Blaine, currently in the final stretch of his attempt to consume nothing but water for 44 days while living in a transparent box suspended over London's River Thames.
"David Blaine is very good at what he does; however, the things he does aren't necessarily Guinness records," Claxton explained. "We do not encourage people to attempt fasting records, but we'll document them for historical reasons." And, Claxton noted, since the GWR record for the longest time without eating solid food stands at more than 300 days, "unfortunately for David, his efforts pale in comparison."
GWR has set its own publishing records. In 1951, Guinness brewery director Sir Hugh Beaver hit upon the idea of creating a reference book that would answer questions like whether the grouse or golden plover was the fastest game bird. Beaver proposed the idea to a London fact-finding agency, and in 1955, the first edition of the GWR book was released. Since then, the book has become the world's best-selling copyrighted book: 94 million copies in 100 countries and 37 languages. The 2003 edition was on The New York Times Bestsellers List for 18 weeks. This year, the 2004 GWR book has remained on that list since the volume's August release.
Other San Diegans who made the 2004 cut: fastest time to enter a locked strait jacket (Daniel Smith-two minutes, eight seconds); greatest speed reached by a human-powered, non-propeller-driven submarine (piloted by Scott Ketcham-3.467 knots); fastest trans-United States cycling journey (16-year-old Kent Johnson-444 days); and largest marine snail (an Australian trumpet conch owned by Don Pisor-30.4-inch shell length, 39-and-three-quarters-inch girth and 40-pound weight, when alive).
In addition to monitoring and tracking record-breaking facts and feats from around the world, Claxton's responsibilities include traveling to judge events as they happen. Attending more than 40 GWR attempts, he's witnessed 10,004 people trying for the most simultaneous games of chess (since broken by 11,320 people in Havana) and climbed the world's largest incense burner in Dubai.
"It's inspirational meeting record breakers," Claxton said. "There's a focus and singularity of mind that's quite admirable."
At first blush, that statement might seem like just a good bit of PR-speak. But a chat with Villalobos brings home the combination of whimsy and seriousness with which would-be record-breakers view their attempts at GWR glory.
When the Villalobos family bought their 1950s-era, College-Rolando area house in 1999, the now exalted rosebush-then a humble, somewhat neglected plant-was already there. Then, two years ago, Villalobos casually placed a potted morning glory near the bush.
"I pulled the pot off, threw some dirt on top of the roots and said, "I hope you live,'" she recalled.
The thriving vine later attached itself to the rosebush. After a series of rains, Villalobos noticed this past January that the rosebush, competing with the morning glory for sunlight, had reached unusual heights.
"It's something I don't feel I've had a lot of control in inventing," she said. "Everybody needs to do what they love... [and] I didn't over-water."
Calling the GWR people, Villalobos learned their record at that time for tallest rosebush was 9 feet (although the record for largest rosebush-an Arizona plant with a girth of 8,000 square feet-blew her out of the water). GWR then sent a certified consultant arborist to officially measure the Villalobos rosebush.
"I found out [the bush is] called Midas Touch, like King Midas-everything he touched turned into gold," she said.
Villalobos emphasized the rosebush represents more than a plant.
She recounted how, after her family experienced financial hardship in 2002, she regained hope when "the rains came and I saw this towering rose. It's a reminder of coming out of a desert in our own lives."