Al Batt: It’s a small world unless you have to paint it

Published 9:15 pm Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Tales From Exit 22 by Al Batt


“Where are you going? Someplace?” a friend asked as I pumped gas.

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I told him I was considering a job offer in Kenya and the opportunity to go on a safari.

He replied, “I think I speak for everyone who knows you when I say we’d love to see you go to Kenya — at least that far.”

Augustine of Hippo, who wasn’t a real hippopotamus, said, “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”

I enjoy traveling, whether it’s real or imagined. Over 2 million people attended the past Minnesota State Fair. I imagined I’d attended that fair. The parking was easier that way. My parents visited five states and lived in three of them. They never set foot in an airplane, but traveled by book, newspaper, magazine, radio, TV, photographs, travelogues and traveler’s tales.

When I worked for Birds Eye, a company I called Clarence because we were on a first name basis, hoboes occasionally stopped by for a chat. I was pleased to hear their stories. They’d been everywhere, man. I traveled on their words.

I was a dedicated bicyclist as a boy because I had no driver’s license. Each farm had a dog, most had more than one. They guarded the farms, running to the ends of driveways to express their concern at my ominous presence as I pedaled past. Many of the dogs were large hulks with menacing barks and growls, but only one ever bit me. It was a dachshund. I hate to whine about a wiener dog, but he had sharp teeth. He was underslung, nipping my ankle when my foot was on the downstroke on the pedal. The dog was fast, but his lateral movements were clumsy. When I saw him coming, I zigzagged across the road. He couldn’t change course quickly enough to catch me, but he did foster an urge to travel.

Some folks don’t travel. I led a bus tour to Mystery Cave, said to be the longest cave in Minnesota — over 13 miles of amazing things like stalactites, stalagmites, flowstone, fossils and underground pools. A couple of guys in a local cafe asked what I was up to. I mentioned the cave. They lived close to it, but had never visited it. 

Frank and Joseph Bily were brothers who grew up on a 138-acre farm near Spillville, Iowa in the late 1800s. They had an interest in carving and had carved up their school desks, which may be why they completed only five grades. The Bily brothers never traveled more than 35 miles from home. They traveled by making clocks and sharing their love of history, nature and architecture through their carved creations. They produced more than 20 wooden clocks using only hand tools and a scroll saw made from a sewing machine. From 1923 to 1927, the brothers carved the American Pioneer History Clock. The clock stood 9 feet tall and weighed over 500 pounds. Henry Ford offered to buy it for $1 million. That wasn’t chump change in those days. The brothers declined, refusing to sell any of their clocks.

  I enjoyed the movie “Smoke.” It was a beguiling film centered upon the Brooklyn Cigar Company, which was the world for its owner Auggie Wren. Every morning, he photographed the front of his store from across the street. He called those photos his life’s work. “They’re all the same,” said Auggie, “but each one is different from all the others.”

Auggie traveled by noticing small changes.   

Garden spiders belong to the family of orb weavers, made famous by E. B. White in his classic book “Charlotte’s Web.” Webs of the black and yellow garden spider (Argiope) can be large. Charlotte wrote eloquently in her web. Garden spiders write in their webs in a heavy silk that looks like dental floss, called stabilimentum. It may serve to hide the spider from predators, shield it from the sun, attract insects or as a visual warning to discourage birds from flying into the web.

Folklore claims that if you smile in front of this spider’s web, it counts your teeth and they’ll all fall out. There are even more dire consequences in other lore. Some say the spider writes the names of a future spouse or the next president. I checked my friendly neighborhood Argiope’s web. The stabilmentum was nothing but zigzagging W’s. Our next president’s name will be WWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW.

Traveling certainly makes the world smaller.

But a person can do a lot of traveling in a backyard.

Al Batt’s columns appear every Wednesday and Saturday.