As I mentioned in a previous post, I’ve just finished up my third winter in a row. Pretty much twelve months spent in the winter seasons of Milwaukee, then Chile, then New York.
It’s natural that during this Ice Age, my mind would wander sometimes, and take a little vacation from the cold.
Leaving my frostbitten carcass behind, it would daydream of sun, gentle breezes, and warm beaches.
So when I got a break, and actually took a short trip to a sunny, warm beach, I stood in the warmth and sunshine, and naturally my mind strayed again, like that one pesky third-grader on a field trip, and left me with thoughts of…
Cream of Wheat?
By sheer good luck, in February I got the chance to tag along with a student group going to the Galapagos Islands, pretty close to the equator. Walking around Floreana Island, under the most intense sunlight I’ve ever felt, suddenly my mind was thinking of my favorite hot breakfast cereal.
Sometimes I worry myself.
On the island, looking at a weathered barrel full of postcards, what came to mind, was a famous advertisement from the turn of the last century, which I’d seen for years, on a tin canister in our kitchen.
The ad ran in magazines over a hundred years ago, but a lot of folks would recognize it still. “Rural Delivery”, painted by N.C. Wyeth in 1906, shows a cowpoke on horseback, six-shooter on his hip, dropping a letter into a wooden box on a post. “Where The Mail Goes, Cream of Wheat Goes” says the caption.
The barrel post office I was standing by, on this remote island in the Galapagos, is even older than the ad. The site (if not the current barrel) has been used since the 1790’s. Originally by sailors coming ashore for water or food – – whalers, seal-hunters, and sea-cooks looking to boil up a big pot of turtle soup – and now by tourists from all over the world.
Over two hundred years ago, a British sea captain set up the mail drop, with flags that signaled its existence to passing ships. Outbound sailors would leave messages, and homeward bound sailors would retrieve letters left by others, to deliver when they got to port.
The legacy has continued – – each modern visitor leaves a postcard, and looks for one that they can deliver in person to the recipient.
I enjoyed looking through addresses in places as diverse as Mumbai and Moldova. That last one, had languished here for twelve years. One girl in the group, feeling sad for a letter marooned on the island for seventeen years, waiting to be carried to Turkey, said she would defy whatever curse came from violating tradition, and would mail it from the U.S., because she felt like matters had waited long enough.
On the day we were there, New Englanders seemed to have the most luck, and several kids found addresses close to their homes, that they could deliver at the end of the semester. “This lady lives twenty minutes from my house!”
I am looking forward to hearing from myself, just a card, and it will be a nice surprise to learn what I was thinking, because I’ve already forgotten what I wrote.
The most poignant message, though, was very simple. I picked it up and in big letters it proclaimed:
“I will be back for this. If I die before then, my kids will. Leave me here, I’m coming back!”
“Rural Delivery” painting is public domain, courtesy of the Minneapolis Institute of Art (a gift from the National Biscuit Company!)
8 thoughts on “Message in a…barrel ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ The Galapagos Post Office.”
What a fascinating story. Let us know if you receive your message. Let’s hope it doesn’t take 17 years.
So glad you found it interesting! In a way, it would be cool to receive a message after all those years!
Robert, I look forward to and enjoy each article that you were write. This one is delightful. I hope you receive your note to yourself someday. You should be a writer for the New Yorker or some other magazine. Your writing is very entertaining!
🙂 Thank you!
Another great blog post! This one, I’m certain, you must have made up! 🙂
Thank for the kind words, Oliver. No, I wouldn’t kid about something as sacred as Cream of Wheat. And the post office is real, too!
I’ve never seen that painting, but all it took was a glance at the Cream of Wheat mailbox to remember Velveeta. It, too, used to come in a wooden box: balsa, I suspect. It had a sliding lid, and my mother kept one of those lids handy for disciplinary purposes. I don’t remember being smacked with the lid, but I surely was. All through childhood, all it took was the sight of the thing to get me to pay attention.
There’s an old tree in Council Grove, Kansas, that was used as a post office by travelers on the Santa Fe trail. It not only contained mail, but also reports of current conditions along the trail: Indian raid frequency, flooded-out fords, and so on. The effectiveness of your barrel and their tree really is quite remarkable.
As for the atmosphere, islands are islands, and life there runs by its own rhythms. I’ll have to dig around and see if I can find the photo of a friend and me after we pulled up on an island — in the Exumas, I think — and found a sign propped up by rocks. It was an off-kilter arrow pointing inland, with the single word, “ICE!”
The best-ever song about mail boats is Buffett’s take on Mark Twain’s Following the Equator. Enjoy!
I was given that book and just finished reading it last week! I really loved it. But I didn’t know the Jimmy Buffet song, thanks!
It’s funny that computer people also talk of message trees, but somehow
digital ones aren’t as interesting as an actual tree on the Santa Fe Trail.
My parents mentioned that when they were in college, pre-Internet, they used message trees as community bulletin boards (but they do claim there was indoor plumbing and electric lighting) everyone posted important notices on all the trees around campus, using those newfangled photocopiers I’m guessing (and also guessing “important” meant batik and tie dye workshops, bands looking for new drummers after their last one spontaneously combusted, etc.)
I had to look up Exumas – – looks like pretty nice islands to wash up on! especially if they have ICE