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!)