## Speed Gibson of the International Secret Police

As a young boy, I was fascinated with the Danny Dunn series of booksDanny Dunn, Time Traveler.  Danny Dunn and the Homework Machine.  Danny Dunn and the Weather Machine.  Danny Dunn, a young boy, in a fictional New England city, had a professor-friend at the local University who was always inventing devices and substances (there is an invisible paint-themed book in the series, too).  One way or another Danny was left alone with the invention, and, curiously, he turns on the machines or uses the substance that is the theme of the book.  Adventure ensues.  It is the kind of adventure that catches a young mind (or not so young), and takes the imagination along for that adventure.

A friend (also named Alex) and myself, for a little while, have been aficionados of old time radio.  Alex is a fan of Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar.  The series originally aired from 1949 into 1962, and featured a clever story device of reading an expense report.  It sounds boring, but the story unfolds from cab fares – you will learn why Johnny took a cab in the first place, to why Johnny needs to be reimbursed for a hotel.

I became hooked on old time radio by listening to the radio version of Jack Webb’s Dragnet. Webb cut his crime-drama-teeth in the film-noir, He Walked by Nightwhich helped kick start what would eventually be Dragnet.  The Dragnet radio program aired from 1949 into 1957, with 314 episodes produced. If you are familiar with the television version of Dragnet, you will know most of the radio versions’ storylines.  I hope everyone agrees that the stolen-baby-Jesus-Christmas-episode is an infuriating and all together inane episode — radio or television.

After Dragnet, I came across The Blue Beetle (terrible audio quality along with an annoying stereotypical Irish cop character), and pointed Alex at it, and through a bit of sleuthing, he came across Speed Gibson of the International Secret Police as a better series.

In that Danny Dunn sort of adventure-craft-way, Speed Gibson, is an intelligent, young teenager with a streak for adventure – and he has a pilot’s license.  Speed has an uncle, Clint Barlow, who, in the first episode, is revealed to be in the secret police along with his friend, Barney Dunlap.  The term secret is really only implied, as it seems that with every new person encountered, someone is blabbing about being in the secret police.

The series itself consists of two story arcs.  The first story, 100 episodes in length, you follow Speed, Clint, Barney and host of others along the way, travel to Hong Kong and other parts of Far East in search of the Secret Polices’ arch nemesis, The Octopus.   The second story, 78 episodes in length, you follow the gang to Africa to foil more of the Octopus’ evil plans.

As I listened to first story, I could not help but think about how the Octopus was a lot like Dr. Claw of Inspector Gadget.  As the story plays out, I feel that the creators of Dr. Claw had to, at bare minimum, take inspiration from the Octopus and his gang of inept henchmen.  There is little comparison on the protagonist side of Inspector Gadget, but the antagonist side, there is plenty to draw from.  The Octopus, like Dr. Claw, has a huge ego, and feels that at every move, he will easily trap his enemies with an overly complicated, yet, ultimately, easy to foil trap.  Upon nearly being captured by Speed and the gang, the Octopus slips away with a quip about ruing the day that Speed Gibson crossed him.

Aside from the simple plots, heavy reliance on coincidence, the use of shortwave radios, and having some of the worst “Chinese” accents of any drama, radio or television, Speed Gibson of the International Secret Police is a great serial to listen for at the office, or on a road trip.  Between the introduction music, the exit music and a recap of the previous episode, you get a solid 8 to 12 minutes of new, if slow moving, adventure.

## Halloween

Do you remember as a kid, going door to door, dressed in something ridiculous – maybe a ghost or a Ninja Turtle?  That’s what I thought, you probably do.  I don’t.  In the mid to late 1980s, when I would have been at peak-trick-or-treating-age, our mother was deep into a fundamentalist christian conviction.   Halloween, All Hallows Eve,  was off limits.   No tricks.  No treats.  Lights out in the house.   Oh shoot, that family down the block was out with their kids before sundown.  Our mother would ignore them at the door.  They’d keep knocking.

During the era where our father was care taker for a cabin on a lake that was about 30 minutes away, for several Halloweens in a row, we would put Betsy our basset in the basement of the house, pack up the minivan and head out the cabin.  On the way, we would stop at the video store to rent a movie, there was a pizza place next door, so we would pick up pizza, well.  One year, I distinctly remember our father renting the 1986 classic, Iron Eagle – the first in that franchise, the movie featured Louis Gossett Jr.  The cabin did not have a resident television, so, we would bring an early 1970s, portable black & white television.  The TV was all sorts of fancy – it had both UHF and VHF.  We would also bring our VCR.  How else were we to watch a movie?  We did not have a Betamax player.

By 10:00pm, the pizza was gone, and the movie was over.  Was it safe to the return to town?

Looking at back on this era, it seems ridiculous.  Why did we have leave the house?  Would have ignoring the one or two early treat-or-treaters been a feasible option?  Likely, but abandoning the town which was clearly in the tight grip of satan was what my mother thought was reasonable and not ridiculous.

It certainly makes for those laughing moments with my sister;  I sent her a text this evening, do you remember watching Iron Eagle at the cabin, 29 years ago?  She did.

## The Seckel Pear

I wrote about our pear trees a few years ago.  At that time, if you check out the post (there’s a time-lapsed video of myself picking up pears), you will notice that the ground is more or less thick with pears.  That year, we picked up (and composted) push-carts full of pears — hundreds of pounds.  This year, it was a ho-hum year for fruit (and nuts) in general.

On the apple front, we are down to a single, mature apple tree.   The crabapple tree next our house was taken down in the spring.  The roofing company that redid our roof recommended that it be taken down as it was too close to the house and the roof.  It was likely a great move.  The heartwood of the trunk, about 12 inches above the ground was rotted and about half of the sapwood was intact; there were also many, many dead branches.  The other apple tree to come down was the tree we had gathered apples from for the cyser last season.  The heartwood on this tree was long gone and the entire weight of the tree was supported by the sapwood, which was beginning to give under the stress.  That said, if the cyser turns out, and we do not have need to make 5 gallons of vinegar, it will be a sort of unique, never-to-be-produce-exactly-again beverage.  The other apple tree that I gave little attention to, resided in the way-back woods behind our main yard.  It was tucked along our property line, behind a buckthorn thicket.  That tree died over the winter.  With one, mature tree, we have had zero useable apples.

The walnut trees on the property had a crumby year, as well.  Melissa is pleased that the dogs are not bringing in greasy-black bits of walnut husk, but it is sad to have not seen all the small green orbs growing over the course of the summer.  I suspect that at the peak time when the catkins on the trees were just right for pollination, it rained heavily and for an extended period and washed the pollen into the ground. In fact, a quick survey of the neighborhood walnut trees also show no nuts.  It will be a sparse winter for the squirrels; we will need to keep an eye on the chicken coop this winter for squirrels raiding the feed.

The cherry tree we planted the year after we moved into our house had a good year, a good for a tree just beginning to produce useable quantities of cherries.  We also had no plums this year.

But, back to the pears.  There was not a heavy load of pears on the two trees this year.  The east-tree, which I have yet to identify the variety of, had an alright year.  We have not had to pickup many, if any, of the fruit from the ground.   The west-tree, which, as best as I can tell is a Seckel pear tree, produced a decent amount of fruit.  About 82 pounds worth of fruit.  With mead and cyser in carboys, we decided to branch out into the more fruit-based hard beverages and less honey-based.  We’re going to tackle making a perry (pear cider) this winter.  The 82 pounds of pears are currently taking up space in one of the freezers.  There are still fruit on the tree; we’re hopeful to make the total an even 100 pounds before it is too late.

As I worked in the yard today, near the pear trees, I started thinking about the Seckel.  I thought about curious size of the fruit – quite small.  I thought about the particulars of this one tree – how old was it, who planted it, why was it planted in the location it resides in?  On a short break from the work I was attending to in the yard, I searched the internet for history of the seckel pear.  I knew that I would not find results on our Seckel, but I might find more information on the origins of the Seckel variety.  The results returned included a few tree nurseries that carry Seckel trees – many of the nurseries’ online catalogs all have very similar text that spins the mysterious origins of the Seckel.  Other results that were returned from the search included recipes that use pears as a primary ingredient in a dish.  Amongst the results was an article from a horticultural and rural life journal from 1880.  The Gardener’s Monthly and Horticulturist Devoted to Horticulture, Arboriculture and Rural Affairs, Volume XXII, 1880.  The seckel is actually mentioned a number of times in this issue.  There is, however, an entire article on the seckel; titled: THE OLD SECKEL PEAR.

There is a print of an engraving of the the old seckel pear tree in the journal — surprisingly, our pear tree has the same harrowed look, complete with droopy, arching downward-swept branches.

So, for the reader’s amusement and enjoyment, the following the article.

THE OLD SECKEL PEAR.

BY JAFET.

I had heard from a friend, of the old, original
accidental seedling, the parent stock of all of that
ilk extant, and the story gradually infected my
imagination. It began to haunt me. I saw it –”

” In my mind’s eye, Horatio,” –”

standing like a sentinel down there in ” The
Neck ” among the dikes and ditches ; living
through slow and patient history; watching
through its ” two hundred years,” so the story
goes, and listening to the hum and stir of distant
life in the Quaker metropolis, and the growing
traffic of the two rivers that washed the meadow’s
foot more than one hundred and fifty years from
this 31st day of July, 1880.

” More than one hundred and fifty years ago”
–”say the “Neckers” –” the first dike was thrown
up to reclaini the meadows on which they and
their fathers’ fiithers have lived and moved and
had their being; fighting the waves at spring tides,
and the rheumatiz’ nipre at their leisure ; but
never much troubled with a dry time, even
though there be but a fraction of an inch of rain-
fall in a month, or a whole dry summer never so
long.

It is a fat land down there, and has its bless-
ings and its drawbacks like other places. A
hardy race grows and thrives, and feeds others
out of the rich alluvial, but lays its bones away
on higher ground, for

And SO they lay them down at last, on green
and gravelly slopes, afiir from the music of the
singing birds of their household groves ; and so
their sons and sons’ sons have come and warmed
the old homes and kept the old names and man-
sions awhile in the meadows, and then followed
on to the narrow house in the higher ground.
But this is wandering from the old Pear tree.
That, I had some trouble to find, of which more
anon.

The ” facts” above stated, expressed more in
the local vernacular, I had from an old Necker,
who did not dream himself, but set his listener
dreaming.

Who munched the pear, and thoughtlessly
dropped the core over the side of what vessel, as
she passed the “Back Channel? And when?
It must have been between 1682 and 1720 ; for
that core floated to fast land, seeded and inaugu-
rated its celebrated distinct vai-iety far inside the
old dike that more than one hundred and fifty
years ago first barred back the waters from their
accustomed flats. May it not as likely have
been in the first named year as at any time
in the interval between that and the latter? For
what is thirty-eight years, more or less, in the
life of a pear tree, whose ” more than one hun-
dred and fifty years” have to-day been resolved
out of its indefinite past? And who shall say it
was not Penu himself, as likely as any of his
fellow-voyagers, –” or as those in the few following
years, –” who cast overboard the unconscious seed
of the land-mark of the two centuries then to
come?

Up to the day noted in the first paragraph, I
had never seen the object of my lately awakened
enthusiasm. Nothing would do until I could set
eyes on it, if yet standing ; and if not, alas what
My friend had described it as ” still standing
fifteen years ago, but with one-half decayed ofi”
the trunk, the balance a mere shell, supported
by props, and piously guarded with posts and
rails,” ready to fall and pass away forever. He
gave me a verbal notion of the direction and dis-
tance, relying more upon a reference for par-
ticulars to his description of his own visit
published long ago in the Gardener’s Monthly.
Neglecting this at the lime, I was not aware of
its more particular reference to exact locality.

His interesting article is well worth reading, and

will be found in vol. 7, page 44, Feb. 1865.

I had, therefore, a loose notion of the general
locality, comprising, perhaps, a couple of square
miles, anywhere within which it might be, and
over which I might have to roam vaguely and
guessingly. In that area there were, possibly,
many descendants of the old patriarch pear,
themselves aged; and one might risk being
sentimental over some decayed sample of several
generations later than the real, simon-pure-
great-great-grandfather of them all. My friend’s
verbal directions were months old, and, refracted
by my own unsafe keeping, were, as a guide,
about as reliable as young Launcelot’s directions
to Old Gobbo.

” Old Gobbo–” faster young gentleman, I pray yoa
which is the way to Master Jew’s?

Launcelot –” Turn up on your right hand, at the next
turning, but at the next turning of all, on your left;
–” marry, at the very next turning turn of no hand, but
turn down indirectly to the Jew’s house.”

Thus prepared (?) for the search, I started for
it overland, on the hottest day of this hottest of
Julys ; but was driven back by the heat, fotigue
and uncertainty of location, reinforced by grow-
ing lateness of the hour. So on the last day of
July I tried my second parallel, and attempted
to flank the position by water, taking the little
steamer at foot of Chestnut street, Schuylkill.
Making a demoralized landing at a rotten, half
burnt, plankless oil wharf, I reached land by
perilous gymnastics over the tops of bare wharf
piles, and formed again in good order. But a
Necker’s ” half mile” is a full mile and a half I
walked to and fro four miles, prospecting around,
and brought up* at a country hotel on the ” Old
don’t try my route, but take the one I found out
since. It is very simple. A stage from Peter
“Wright & Sons, 307 Walnut street, goes all the
way twice a day, passing this point ; fare 75 cts.
round trip. And so cut your eye teeth on my
experience. It is easier.

A busy ostler was sponging a critter at a

Jafet –” How long have you lived in these parts ?

Ostler –” Boy an’ man, all my life, –” some forty
year.

Jafet –” Then perhaps you know of a very old
pear tree somewhere in this region.

Ostler –” The old Seckel d’ye mean ! Know it?
Ish’d think I orter; many’s the pear I’ve had
ofl’n it too. D’ye see that lane right wher’ yer
standin’? That big yaller house down ther’s John
Bastian’s, and he has the old Seckel, if’t has’nt
blowed over. But stop, mister, tha’ don’t ripen
jist yit, if that’s wot yer goin’ fer.

To think I should reach Mecca in this unsenti-
mental way, and not on a cloud, or the back of
a camel !

I found Mr. Bastian sitting on his porch. He
received me very kindly, and directed me to the
identical spot. Sure enough, there stood the
ancient of days and its surroundings, ” the old
stone house, the sloping meadow and the ditch.”
Eureka !

The half trunk was a mere shell when Mr.
Bastian first knew it forty years ago, and he says
it was “much the same as now.” At least half
the circumference is gone. At 3 feet 6 inches
from the ground, it measures 5 feet 4 J inches
around the half trunk and across the exposed
diameter. The diameter, Irom bark to bark
is 23j inches. I estimate the full circumfer-
ence when whole and sound, as having been
at least 6 feet 6 inches, 3J feet from the ground.
The fraction of all that remains of the old storm-
beaten, ancestral Seckel Pear is 26 feet in height.

The old stone house must be one hundred and
fifty years old. It is of one storj” and attic, and
the walls are like a fort in thickness. Mr. Bas-
tian now lives in his more commodious mansion
near by on a rising ground. His son, who was
born in the old stone homestead, lives there now
with his family. There are many very old
homesteads all through the Neck. They are
perhaps, with the exception of the old Swedes
Church, among the oldest buildings remaining
in the city. Mr. Bastian has ‘owned the old
Seckel farm forty years. At the time he moved
there the late Thomas P. Cope told him that the
Seckel family had known the old tree for eighty
jears. Eighty plus forty makes one hundred
and twenty years to begin on. Perhaps some
earlier experience, going backward from the
year 1760, which this gives us, –” and so verify the
tradition of ” more than one hundred and fifty
years and perhaps two hundred.”

Other issues of The Garden’s Monthly can be found on archive.org.

If you’re interested the origin story of the pear (from species-specific perspective), check out Origin, Domestication, and Dispersing of Pear (Pyrus spp.)  (pdf)

## Racine Hives

It had been too long since I last checked the hives in Racine, MN.  I had intended to check them when we were down to butcher chickens, a few weeks ago in August.  But, I forgot the varroa mite treatment in St. Paul.  Besides, the butchering, albeit much faster than prior butcherings, took a chunk of the day.  I did not want to consume more time, post-butchering, to check hives — and run the chance that I’d get stung and have a reaction; we had chickens to quarter and get into the freezer!

The drive, like the many, many times we have driven before, was uneventful.  Hastings, Cannon Falls, Zumbrota, Pine Island, Oronoco – the river-towns of southeastern Minnesota – their signs clip by as we head south.  It was somewhat early, and there was very light traffic.  When I notice the speed limit had dropped to 60 miles per hour, I know that we are at Rochester.   Past the Apache Mall; when the South Broadway Avenue exit sign can be seen, it’s time to change lanes to the right and take the exit.  The Rochester International Airport, followed by Stewartville.  The speed limit drops to 30 miles per hour within Stewartville, and picks up again upon exiting south of the city.  I always chuckle to myself as we exit Stewartville, there is a 30 mile per hour marker, and less than 75 feet past it, there is a 55 mile per hour marker.  I find the nearness of the two signs to be funny, I don’t know why.  A few minutes down highway 63, Racine can be found.

Melissa commented, as we were entering the turn lane for Main Street, that her friend in Racine, said the fatal accident the day before resulted the intersection being closed for much of the morning.  The heavy rain during the night had erased many of the signs of the accident from the road.  Tire marks and a bit of spray paint on the pavement could be seen but even with the temporal proximity to the accident being just the previous day, the intersection felt normal.  This was the second fatal accident at this intersection, this year.  A left turn onto Main Street; a left a few avenues down and then a right into the driveway of the farm.  Wingnut, one of the farm dogs, greets us.  Her face is covered in mud, but she’s happy to see us.  Mel and Buster, the two house bassets, soon can be heard barking at us through the kitchen door.

It rained off and on, on the drive down to the farm.  As we pulled into the farm, it was now on, again; it was raining.  Might as well take care of the business I needed to take care.  Melissa grabbed her things from the car; she needed to say hello to her horse, Victor, and then walk puppies from the kennel.  The puppies are not so puppy-ish anymore; they’re closer to being just very rubbery full sized creatures.

The other business to attended to was to return nuc boxes from the bees purchased in June from Cresco, Iowa.  I could keep the nucs for $20 each, or return them. It’s only a 45 minute drive from Racine to Cresco, and it’s the edge of the driftless area of Minnesota and Iowa – the scenery is pleasant with rolling hills, rivers and creeks. If your mental image of farm country is that of neatly divided squares of 160 acre pieces of land with road on all four side, this is not that. The roads are more a series of swooping curves and short straight-aways than a grid-like system. The drive is a familiar path – this is the fourth trip to Linda and Manley’s, twice to pickup bees in early summers and, now, twice to return empty nuc boxes in late summer and early fall. It was raining when I pulled into their driveway; house on the right, a neatly kept garden on the left, trees. The house was dark; no one appeared to be home. I pulled up to Manley’s pole building. It was raining hard. The nuc boxes are fairly light, being made of corrugated plastic, if the wind picked up, they would likely get scattered about. Next to the pole building, perpendicular and to the right, was a shed with a car parked in front it. The car and shed might work as a windbreak. I left the nucs tucked behind and to the left of the car, and near the shed’s door. The rain stopped just north of Linda and Manley’s; dark clouds and lightning could be seen further to the northeast. After lunch, I set to work on checking the hives. We are down to just two hives in Racine; we started with four hives several years ago, the count peaked at six, and with winter kill and uncertain future plans for the continuation of hives on the hive, we arrived at two. One of the two hives has been mediocre at producing honey but has been stellar at overwintering, having successfully made it thru four winters. The first hive to tackle is one that contains bees purchased from Linda and Manley the previous year. Three honey boxes sit atop two brood boxes. The bottom brood box appeared to have been knocked off the hive base — likely by a lawn mower. The half-inch gap between the bottom box and the base makes for a nice exit and entrance for the bees; it also might be wide enough for a field mouse to squeeze in. As I waited for the smoker’s wood chips to catch fire, I got my protective jacket on. Even though there are only two hives, the late-season smell of golden rod nectar being turned into honey drifted across the wind. It’s a sweet, musky scent. I have heard the smell described as being like a gym locker. Maybe without adequate ventilation, a locker might smell a musty, but the scent of golden rod nectar turning into honey is nothing that I kind of like; it means that fall is on its way. I pulled the outer cover off, and gave the inner cover’s center opening a few puffs from the smoker. A quick pry with the hive tool, and the inner cover came off. A heavier stream of bees came out of the bottom gap; a few puffs of the smoker seemed to do the trick; calming and confusing them. The top honey box came loose from the one below with a bit of hive tool prying. The box was loaded with honey – all ten frames. I set it on cross-ways on the upside-down outer cover on the ground. The second honey box had ten nice frames of honey; it was stuck something-fierce to the box below it. A bit of prying and minimal movement, and the box came loose. I set it on top of the other honey box I had just removed. The third honey box was similarly cemented to the top brood box with propolis. The top brood box looked great. No burr comb, and without tearing heavily into it, no queen cells. Anecdotally, strong bee numbers. More smoke was puffed across the top brood box before I pried it off and set it onto of the reverse-ordered honey boxes. With the weight of a 100 or so pounds of honey, and the top brood box off of the bottom box, I was able to square it up on the hive bottom. The bees seemed to be getting a bit hot. Guard bees repeatedly flew into my face screen. More smoke across the top of the brood box on the hive base. I fiddled around getting the package of Hopguard II open. This particular product works best at the end of the season, after most of the larvae have emerged. Early September is likely a bit early, but I figured I would apply a treatment of it anyway. Four strips of Hopguard II to each brood box. The first strip went well. As I pulled the second strip out, the box resting on the hive base turned into a bee-volcano. Bees flew up and got tangled in the cuff of my jacket; I began to get stung through the cloth. Many puffs of the smoker, and I remaining calm, and I had four strips of Hopguard II in the one box. I moved a bit quicker with more purpose. I lifted the brood box that I had moved off, back onto the one that I had straightened on the base. More smoke. I rotated puffs of smoke and inserting Hopguard II strips. More smoke. Lots of smoke to clear out of the layer of bees so I could return the honey boxes atop. My wrist felt like it was on fire. With the hive of Manley’s Spicy Russian Bees reassembled, I moved onto the other hive. This turned out to be almost a non-event for the bees in this hive. A little smoke, moved the honey boxes and the top brood box away, inserted the Hopguard II strips, and reassembled the hive without incident. If you are curious about the efficacy of Hopguard II, there was an interesting study done that more or less concluded what I have anecdotally observed. The study is here. ## Araneus cavaticus As best as I can tell, we have a number of barn spiders (Araneus cavaticus) around the property here in St. Paul. We initially noticed them in the chicken yard. We had a snow rake’s handle hanging over the side entrance of the covered run, and one of the buggers made a web at least five feet high with support webbing running more than eight feet. The next barn spider showed up to the right of the main gate into the chicken yard; the web was smaller, but you could also easily find the spider, during the day, tucked behind the yellow “Chicken Crossing” sign. Since then, another one showed up at the front of the house, in front of the attached garage. Melissa wanted to name this one Charlotte, since the barn spider is the type of spider that Charlotte, of Charlotte’s Web was modeled after. ## North Carolina’s Outer Banks When I get the travel itch, I guess I scratch it hard. Where I am right now? I am in Nags Head, NC. The Wright Brothers National Memorial is just two and a half miles from the hotel. The Atlantic Ocean stretches out from the patio on our room. I am traveling, again, with my sister. Back in April, when I was in North Carolina, for a conference/symposium in Chapel Hill, I did the sane thing of visiting my sister and her husband – they live 3.1/2 hours from Chapel Hill – one way. During the time I spent with the two of them, my sister and I came up with the idea that at the end of the summer, the two of us should take a long weekend, and head to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. The end of the summer would be the 2/3rd-point of her husband’s Navy deployment — it would be good to see family. As we rolled in the summer, plans firmed up, dates were set, and tickets were purchased. Monday of the week arrived, and it hit me – I was going to be traveling, again. Didn’t I already visit the Pacific Ocean and seven other states – with 6,000 miles of driving – just in the last two months? It’s cool, I would be flying to the North Carolina. And then driving 3.1/2 hours to Nags Head. For a second there, I thought I might not get to drive. The flight from Minneapolis to Charlotte, NC, was uneventful. I happen to get a seat in an otherwise empty row. Window seat, over the right wing. Coffee, a cookie, a quick snooze. The internet on the flight was not working, and I was unable to check the weather. Douglas-Charlotte (CLT), as the airport is known, is getting be known by myself. Like Haneda in Tokyo or LAX in California, I have passed through CLT enough times to begin to get the layout figured out in my head. Land at the D concourse, head to the E concourse – or the other way around. Earlier in the week, my boss had joked that I was feeling spunky when I made an off the cuff comment about the catering of an event on campus being garbage in a box. Maybe I was spunky. In Charlotte, at my departure gate, an announcement came over the intercom: We need three to five individuals willing to give up their seat New Bern; we’ll fly you into Jacksonville, NC; we’ll also give you a$300 voucher.  Done.

I have always wanted to switch flights mid-trip.  It’s nothing wild, it’s a change in plan, and I’d get \$300 – nearly enough to cover the cost of the tickets for this trip.   Or, it’s essentially free tickets to venture back to North Carolina, once my sister’s son is born.

A quick call to my sister; sure, I can pick you up in the Jake.  Great, that’s what I was hoping to hear.  Voucher and new boarding pass obtained, I wandered to the gate the flight to Jacksonville, NC, would be leaving from.  I wonder if my luggage will get forwarded to Jacksonville?  Whatever.  That’s what a credit card is for – I’d just buy a few new cloths and toiletries if it came to that.

As the pilot of the flight joked, we spent more time on the ground in Charlotte than we did in the air to Jacksonville.  On the ground in Jacksonville, I quickly checked the airline’s Track Your Bag feature in their app; my luggage was in New Bern.  I filed a report with Missing Baggage, and Meg and I would head back to her house; I was told at Missing Baggage that the luggage would need to be sent from New Bern back to Charlotte and from there, to Jacksonville.  It might be on the 5:05pm flight; we’d swing by the airport once more before heading to the Outer Banks.

Before heading back to the airport, I picked up some cloths at a couple stores.  At the airport, I was told that the luggage was on its way to Charlotte, and would eventually make its way to Jacksonville.  We left instructions to have the luggage delivered to my sister’s house; we left for the Outer Banks.

We rolled into our hotel in Nags Head, after dark.  We had picked up some groceries at a Harris Teeter we passed on the way to the hotel.  A bit of cheese, some apples, and sourdough bread.  There were two party buses parked in front of the hotel.  A large number of people from, what I gathered was a wedding rehearsal dinner, poured out of the hotel and into the buses.  Meg remarked that she never could figure out the appeal of party buses.  Me neither.

I was tired.  I had been up since about 3:00am Minnesota time; it was close to 11:00pm North Carolina time.  The hotel was somewhat  stuffy and the antihistamine I took shortly after arriving in our room was clearing my nose — and it was giving my brain and body the compelling argument that sleep was what was needed.  I nodded off.

I awoke in the morning to the room flooded with bright light.  The sun was up.  Eight hours of sleep later, it was time to get up.  Once up, we headed to Sam & Omie’s for breakfast.

We had looked up breakfast places before heading out – there was a tried and true institution of the South – Waffle House, in Kill Devil Hills, as well as Stack’em High Pancakes and So Forth; there, of course, are others and places like Duck Donuts.

Sam & Omie’s was busy to say the least.  When we arrived, the place felt over capacity.  There was a line just to get our name on the list to get a table.  Waitresses kept asking us if we could move aside so they could get back to the kitchen. With our name on the list, we stepped out to the porch to wait.

The porch contained a slow, revolving cadre of other tourists.  Very sunburnt tourists.  There was a group of five from New Jersey, a family of four from somewhere south of the Mason Dixon – given their accent.  The folks from New Jersey were called into the restaurant; their seats were quickly filled with more, sunburnt individuals.

“Jay?  Is Jay out here,” the restaurant matriarch yelled.  No Jay, she moved down the list.  A couple more names, and she yelled out Meg’s name.  We were in.  She yelled out the general location of our table and waved her hand in the general direction of where it was located.  To the right of the cash register, along the wall.

Meg ordered something with scrambled eggs and “lots of vegetables”; I ordered a flapjacks and coffee.  I debated for a moment whether to go Carolina low-lands and order “breakfast shrimp” (shrimp and grits), but opted for a trusted favorite.

Breakfast was good – nothing spectacular, but it was tasty.  Meg and I chitchatted as we ate – figuring out where to head next.  Wright Brothers Memorial or Hatteras Lighthouse.  We picked the lighthouse; it was a bit over an hour’s drive south along the outer banks.  I drove.

We passed over bridges and drove passed sand dunes.  Many, many cars and trucks seemed to be parked just off the road.  Best as we could tell, these folks just park and walk over the dunes to the ocean side or the sound side.  Many vehicles had fishing pole holders off the hitch receives; “Salt Life” bumper stickers on the tailgates.  They were probably fishing.

We parked in the lighthouse parking lot, and stepped out of the vehicle.  My glasses immediately fogged up when the air-conditioned-chilled lens met the hot, humid air outside.

We wandered into the gift shop.  I have the long standing (9 years!) tradition of getting patches from the places that I visit.  We were in business — the gift shop had a Cape Hatteras National Seashore patch.

To the Lighthouse!

Tickets purchased and the requisite notice of the temperature, humidity and heat index from a park ranger, and we started the walk to the lighthouse.  There was a group of kids in front of us, when told about the weather conditions, replied, “It’s cool, the lighthouse has air conditioning, right?” No it does not.

The lighthouse is pretty much just a very tall structure that could be seen by shipping passing by.  It’s the tallest brick lighthouse in the United States.  It has no furnishings, but has a staircase that spirals up to the top.

Built in 1803, it marked one side of shoals that was to be avoided by seafarers.  Just off of the shore, the warmer Gulf Stream from the south mixes and meets the colder Labrador Current churning the sand creating the shoals.

The structure now sits on a different spot from where it was originally built — it was moved in 1999, nearly half a mile.

It was hot and humid, was to be expected in the Carolinas, in August, on the coast.  Mid-way up the lighthouse, there was a park ranger with defibrillator kit, just in case.  The entire structure is 210 feet tall, but you’re not able to go to the very tippy top.  A park ranger said it was roughly the equivalent of going up twelve flights of stairs.  But, you know, there really is not a set definition of the length of a flight.

Getting up to the top was a workout – particularly in the heat and humidity.  But, there was a breeze at the top, and the view was spectacular.  A slight haze could be seen out at the end of the horizon.  Looking out the east, you can see the second light station that was built in 1868 – now under private ownership – just at the edge of the horizon.

Going down the lighthouse steps was much easier than going up.  We headed back to the vehicle, got in, cranked the A/C and headed north – back to Nags Head.

## Wooden Bench

It might not be apparent that between my random musings about slingshot-roadtrips, snow-wanderings, and the occasion piece on chickens or bees, I sometimes build things.  Many times, it chicken-related.  The chicken coop is a sort of ongoing project.  There is no master plan for the coop (similar to the Winchester Mansion not having a master plan).  When there is a new – be higher fence panels, or the addition of an infirmary-coop for injured birds, it gets added on to.

Generally, though, the common thread for building things is a perceived need.  Around 2004, I got stuck in my head that I needed to make a Mission-style oak bed frame.  So, I did (more pictures here, and here).  It’s still the bed frame that we have in our bedroom.  Other things are simpler – like a solar wax melter I built when I was first interested in keeping bees.  I still use it.  There was also the shed at our old house, the chicken coop at our old house, and many other projects including an excessively expensive and complicated walnut and cherry desk that worked on, off and on, for nearly two years; it sits in our home office now, Melissa uses when she works from home.

Early in my double-digit-age-days, I had, what some artists might call a period.  Picasso’s early period was his blue period.  My early period was a clock period.  Some how or another, I got my hands a Klockit mail order clock catalog.  I kind of went nuts making wooden clocks.  To this day, there is clock that I made in nearly every room of my parents’ home.

Somewhere in the late aughts, I found myself with a excess supply of 4″x4″x8′ green treated timbers, and a couple 6’x8′ panels of dogeared fencing.   There must have been a woodworking muse or the like that whispered in my ear, make a garden bench; ok, it was probably Melissa.   The aesthetics that I like tend to be clean lines, angles that divide 90 degrees without a remainder (90 modulo angle = 0), and in some cases, parallel piece that have touching surfaces follow the golden ratio (this was the case with the top for the desk).  With the benches, there was also the idea of minimizing wood waste.  Three pickets where used for the seat area, shallow, compound angled legs, and an underskirt.  The picture to the left is of the original timber bench I made for Melissa.  It currently resides in our backyard, under a walnut tree.  Notice the underskirt that the legs fasten into – it’s square.  In later iterations of the timber bench, the underskirt had a bevel that was the same angle as the legs, just the slope was opposite direction of the legs.   We have one these beveled underskirt benches on the familial land in northern Minnesota.  My mother has a pair of three feet wide benches, and I also made an identical pair of these benches (dubbed meditation benches) for a woman in Hibbing.

And then, I ran out of fence panels. I moved onto the next woodworking project or went back to working on the house.  I cannot remember.

Then, a few weeks ago, the bench-muse returned.  Melissa asked me if I could make a bench for a section of the patio she has been gussying up.  Sure.  I finally had a bit of time this weekend; I headed to a big-box lumber store and picked up a few things.   Below is a photo gallery of what I made.

If by chance, you, the reader are interested having one of these short, stocky benches of your own, and you are somewhere in the Minneapolis/St. Paul metro, Duluth, Rochester, or the Iron Range (Grand Rapids to Virginia) — hit me up in the comments on this page, or check out the About Me page on contacting me.  A bench won’t be free, but we can likely work something out.