The Seckel Pear

Pear from the west-tree

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.

gardenersmonthly22meeh_page_009As 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.



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.

gardenersmonthly22meeh-281” 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

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

” water is a sore decayer of your whorson dead body.”

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

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

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

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
had I thoughtlessly neglected, for a lifetime!
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
Eope Ferry Road,” corner of a lane. Reader,
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
trough. We had a talk.

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

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

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.
It had about one peck of pears, when I saw it.

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
one reading this article can furnish data of an
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

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

_DSC3520It 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 IMG_4091drive 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 _DSC3535hives.  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.

_DSC3523The 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.

_DSC3529I 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

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

Meghann, my sister, driving on Roanoke Island

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, file1-1NC, 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.

file-1As 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.

IMG_3935I 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.

Driving back to Nags Head from Hatteras

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!

IMG_3948Tickets 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.

IMG_3957It 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

IMG_3880It 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.

Original timber bench

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.

World’s Tallest Salesman

World’s Tallest Salesman

IMG_3763Towner, Rugby, Minot.  Where was I going?  Some where in north central North Dakota, that’s about all I really needed to know.  The trip was four months away.  It was early April, and I was in North Carolina, in the Triangle, for work, but had managed a side-trip to visit my sister and her husband on the coast, near Jacksonville.

My brother-in-law’s grandfather was to turn ninety years old in August.  Due to circumstances outside of his control, my brother-in-law would be unable to attend the birthday.  My sister, on the other hand, intended to attend the festivities.  She loves the grandparents.  I, too, would be attending the birthday party.  Who was going to be at this party, again?  I think I met the grandparents – once – at Meg & Bruce’s graduation.

I’m not entirely sure who initiated the conversation.  Myself, volunteering to attending the event, or my sister asking me to attend.  Maybe somewhere in the fuzzy middle.  Maybe there was not really an ask whether Meghann would want me to go with her, and maybe there was not really me making an explicit volunteering.   I honestly cannot remember.

Where did I just say I would go in early August, was it Towner or Rugby?

_DSC3328Plans firmed up somewhere in early summer.  Meghann would fly from Raleigh, NC, to Bismarck, ND.  I would drive to Bismarck, and we would then drive to…where were we driving to, again?  Two or three hours north of Bismarck, maybe.   Near the Canadian border?  Close to the border?

August seemed to have arrived, as did the trip.  Shortly after noon, I was on the road.  Didn’t I just drive through Bismarck, less than a month ago?  Yes, yes, I did.

I tend to have, what I consider to be a minimal needs plan.  An MNP is something that has the least number of steps required to have an event be successful.  It is something akin to the Minimally Viable Product of software development and project management.  It is not that I am against details and minutia,.  When I am driving, there usually is little need for me to do things like plan my exact stops for fuel or food, or even figure out the the fastest route between points A and B.  Beverages and food get packed in a cooler in the car, the car tells me when is likely going to be in need of fuel, and Google Maps finds me a decent route.  All I really need to think about, and it is often a brief thought, is when do I need to leave, to be at the place I need to be at?

12:00pm on Friday, August 5th, is the answer to that last question.  Basically, I needed to be to the Bismarck, ND, airport by 7:00pm.  It’s a 6.1/2 hour drive with 30 minutes built in for fuel and bathroom breaks.  Five miles over the speed-limit; I would get there with a nice cushion of time.  A couple cold Bragg’s vinegar+juice drinks in the cooler, a few snacks, and Gareth Emery‘s album, Drive: Refueled, on my phone, I headed out.  The track, Long Way Homeseemed fitting; I pressed play and headed westward.

Meghann and I pulled into the driveway of her brother-in-law’s house in Bismarck, close to 7:20pm – Meg’s flight had been slightly delayed.  Her brother-in-law had nicely offered us a couple rooms at his house for us for the night.  I still really did not have a clear picture where we were going to be driving to the next day.  North.  Towner, maybe Rugby.  Why were staying at this house?  It was an incredibly nice gesture, allowing us to stay at his house.  Sleeping on an air mattress felt very early-twenties-college-esque.

I was the first to wake in the house.  Other guests had also showed up later in the night.  Meg’s brother-in-law forgot that he had also told some friends from out of town that they could stay at his house.  It really did feel like I was back in a shared-college-house.  I ducked out for coffee and returned to find the house still a sleep.

Once Meg was up and called some of her in-laws who had a better idea of where things were going to take place and when, we kIMG_3769new we had the morning the kill in Bismarck.  After breakfast we headed to the capitol grounds for a walk – Bismarck’s annual Capital A’fair arts & crafts festival was taking place.

After enough wandering, we headed out.  Meg was on the phone a bit with her in-laws.  Two aunts might be in Garrison.  We headed to Garrison.

Miscommunication.  The aunts were going to be Minot.  We were in Garrison when we found this out.

Garrison, North Dakota, is a small town.  A small upper midwestern town.  Like many upper midwestern towns with water supporting fish, fish that tourists like to catch & eat — the town has a large fish statue.   Garrison is located just north of the east end of Lake Sakakawea. Other upper midwest towns that one could happen upon a giant fish statue include Bena, MN – they are home to a diner shaped like a muskellunge, or the fiberglass walleye in Kabetogama, MN, or, not to be outdone, Garrison, MN, also has a large walleye statue similar to its neighboring state’s Garrison.  Most places that have waters that contain walleye fish, will also have signage and statues proclaiming that place to be The Walleye Capital of the World.  Not to leave Wisconsin out, in Hayward is home to the North American Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame.  A giant muskellunge statue can be found there.

We headed to Minot to meet the aunts at a McDonalds for coffee.  Driving to Minot, I kept thinking of a book that I had read a long while ago, Big Mutt, by John Reese.  It takes place in the North Dakota bad lands – which were just to the west of where we were driving.  The book has nothing to do with visiting family in North Dakota.  It’s just one of those odd memories that gets triggered periodically by place.

The aunts recalled meeting me at Meg & Bruce’s graduation – years ago.  I probably did meet them, but that graduation was a month prior to one of those hard turns in life – our father having a stroke.  It is like when I think of around Thanksgiving 2014.  I immediately think of our grandmother, Clarice, passing away.  However, two days prior to Clarice’s passing, I was best man in a wedding; that fact rarely crosses my mind.  Those perceived larger events tend to over shadow those seemingly smaller ones.  I’m sure I met the aunts, they remembered me.  They gave Meg some old family photos; gave each of us a hug, and we were on our way.

IMG_3774Towner.  That was where we were going.  The festivities were in Towner, ND.

A family, in general, is odd to an outsider.  It might even be weird.  There is nothing wrong with this.  Every family has that relative, maybe it’s a cousin, or a cousin’s spouse that gets talked about in hushed tones.  You know what went on with them, but you still act like you are ignorant.  Maybe there is an uncle who hugs just a few seconds too long.  Every family has these characters.   Some characters are just perceived to be stranger or weirder by outsiders than other characters in the family.  Every family is a bit of a community, even if the members of this community are scattered around the country.  The birthday party went off without a fuss.  Meg and I, not being much of meat eaters, managed to eek out a meal of pasta salad (we eat around the pepperoni), potato chips, and mixed fruit.  Many tributes were raised to the birthday boy; he is much loved within the family.IMG_3778
I am not sure how long we were actually in Towner.  When a few people left, Meg took the cue that it was time to head to Rugby – the nearest town with a hotel.  Rugby is a twenty minute drive east from Towner.  When we pulled into the hotel’s parking lot, the sun was still hanging a bit above the western horizon.  We were in the hotel for a short time.  At 8:30pm, I ran to a store in town to pick something up for Meg.  That was about the first time all afternoon and into the evening that I actually knew the current time; the store closed at 9:00pm, but it was just across the road.

The next day, Sunday, we had a small window of time to get in some small town attractions.  Rugby claims to be “The Geographic Center of North America.”  I immediately started to wonder how this was determined.  Was a map used?  What was the projection of the map?  Would the center be different if the projection was Albers Equal-Area Conic Projection versus Robinson Projection?  What is different with this center from the Geographic Center of the Nation, in Belle Fourche, South Dakota?

IMG_3780In addition to the Center monument, which just happens to be in the parking lot of a souvenir shop, Rugby has the World’s Tallest Salesman Exhibit.  It was closed, because it was Sunday and still early in the day.

I started to think about these road side attractions as we drove out of Rugby.  Next stop: Silva, ND.  Yup, another road side attraction.  This time, it was a bank vault in a pasture.  You see, Silva, ND is a ghost town.  There are a few buildings remaining of the what used to be the town.  Down a dirt road for a few miles, a left down another dirt road, and we had arrived.  Before leaving the hotel, I had read about Silva.  It was originally home to Cliff Thompson, the World’s Tallest Salesman.  As it turned out, Cliff only lived in Silva until he was seven years old.  He eventually ended up in Portland, Oregon where he practiced law, presumably as World’s Tallest Lawyer.  Like many small towns, a certain segment of that town’s populace build a cottage industry around the hometown hero who, often, has moved on from that town.  Some towns’ heroes have long passed away, like Cliff Thompson, who died in 1955.  Other town heroes are still around – like Bob Dylan – who is claimed by my hometown of Hibbing, MN.  Small towns are like families, a bit weird to outsiders, but perfectly normal to those that reside within them.

Back to Bismarck where I dropped Meg off at the airport.  With Long Way Home streaming from my phone to the car’s stereo, I headed home.   I stopped at two more small town attractions, both fitting into the same category of World’s Largest of certain types of bird.  In Steele, ND, you can find the World’s Largest Sandhill Crane.  And, in Rothsay, MN, you can find the World’s Largest “Booming” Prairie Chicken.  Sadly, the prairie chicken statue does not “boom.”

Small towns and families are weird, but, hell, you cannot help but love both of them.

Lure of the Road (Part 3)

Continuation of Lure of the Road (Parts 1 and Parts 2)

Idaho High Desert, July 2016
Idaho High Desert, July 2016

The rest of southern Idaho, Wyoming, South Dakota, and part of Minnesota lay in front of me.  One more night in a hotel – somewhere western South Dakota, two more days of driving.

A significant part of the remaining was high desert and shrubland.

I really did not meet anymore characters along the way.  Outside of Idaho Falls, I turned off the interstate and took US Highway 20.  Near Sugar City, it was a right Idaho 33 – heading east.

The altitude as I approached the Tetons began to creep up.

Forest fires near Jackson Hole, Wyoming, made the air smell like the old days at the cabin my family used to caretake.

The valley the Snake River flows through and the greater National Park of Grand Teton was teaming with traffic and tourists.  Some, quickly pulling over to get a photo of an elk or snow covered peak of Grand Teton.  The elevation, the way that the Snake River bisects the region, even the peaks of the mountain struck me as being like that of another park I had visited a few years ago: Tombstone Territorial Park in Yukon Territory.  Tombstone, though, was Alpine and tundra terrain without another human for miles and miles and quite cold – snow was still on the ground.  Grand Teton National Park was quite warm, teaming with people, and hazy from the nearby forest fires.

Out of the mountains and back into high desert and shrubland.  The remainder of Wyoming was mostly two lane highway – much like Montana 200.

A stopover in Sturgis, South Dakota for the night, and I was home early evening the next day.