Saturday, July 2, 2016

A Boy Scout Fourth of July

By Rob Watson

For those who may not know, Boy Scouts is an organization made of a core of paid professionals. Their job is to organize the various units and recruit adult volunteers to run the units. A good portion of their money comes from the United Way and other charitable organizations. Each unit ( Cub pack, Scout troop, Explorer post) is sponsored by a local civic volunteer organization or church. Sometimes the sponsor will have more than one or all of the above. Most nations have their own Boy Scout organization, making Boy Scouts the worlds largest free youth organization.

I joined as a Cub Scout at the age of 8. I progressed through the ranks and earned my Eagle badge a few weeks before I graduated from high school. (for those who may care, the Eagle badge is one of THE markers for future success... All 7 Mercury Astronauts were Eagle scouts.) During my first semester in college I found a Boy Scout troop near campus and joined as an assistant scout master.

The highlight of each scouting year is 'Summer Camp'. One of the problems with getting every boy to summer camp is baseball Little League. The kids don't want to miss the games, so they skip camp. The other problem is money. Our scoutmaster was an exceedingly clever fellow. He became a Little League coach and drafted all the scouts onto his team. For game night the parents came and hauled the kids over for the games and back to camp again. For money, he recruited the kids of the richest family in North Louisiana... Problems solved. It was quite unusual for even one of our boys to miss summer camp.

About the summer before my fourth year of college, we took about 100 boys to Summer Camp with us. Friday night is the closing campfire for summer camp. The awards are presented, songs are sung, etc. When I woke up that Friday I realized it was the Fourth of July. On asking the folks in charge, I discovered there were NO plans for celebrating the day... Sad for an organization dedicated to God and Country.

I asked if they would mind if I could 'cook' something up. "Sure" was the response from the head guy. I figured, with a hundred kids, I should be able to get something going. One of the staff took me to the library of a large, nearby city. There I found a one act play on the debate over the Declaration of Independence. I made several copies and headed back. At camp I handed the copies to the Senior Patrol Leader, a kid of about 16 and told him to "Make it Happen"

In the mean time word got around camp that things were in the works and I was approached by a member of the Louisiana National Guard. It seems he had, with him, a 'supply' of flares,  hand-launched star shells, and a few simulation hand grenades, along with a very large American flag.

It went like this: After the regular events of the final campfire, an Indian Chief announced the play. As the actors paraded onto the set, a simulated grenade went off out in the lake, with a big bang, a flash and an impressive column of water. Five seconds later a second went off nearer to shore, then one went off at water's edge. These were followed by a flare igniting the logs for the campfire.

As the play reached its climax, rolecall of the colonies voting YEA for independence, across the lake, 10 flares ignited to illuminate the huge American Flag, while the sky was illuminated with exploding star shells.

Thanks to a dedicated 16 year old kid and the Louisiana National Guard, I have heard that was the best Fourth of July they ever had at Camp KiRoLi.

( only trained adults handled the fireworks)

Monday, April 11, 2016

More Civil War Reenactments

By Rob Watson

If this is the first time to read some of my stuff you might look through the list on the right for other Civil War Reenactment pieces.

I expect Civil War reenacting will eventually become boring. But this passed weekend did not contribute to that expectation. First, I read about the events and movements of the original battle. This contributed to my understanding of how the reenactors were trying to recreate history. In one respect it was a little silly. In the original, a good portion of the Confederate forces were cavalry fighting mounted against three thousand Union cavalry; represented today by three guys on horses in gray against seven guys in blue. As one might guess, cavalry is a very expensive proposition. Along with all the equipment, pistols, swords, leather goods, and uniform, there is the horse and it's equipment, transport, and upkeep. Hence, the small numbers.

In sitting about the camp talking, I steered the conversation to larger reenacting events… because I would really like to go to one of the big ones. One of the guys, who has been doing this for 30 years, told of going as infantry to Franklin Tenn. He and 9,000 other reenacters, in gray, formed a battle line facing 6,000 in blue. They formed rank after rank after rank, marching across an open field toward the Union position. He said, for the first time, and strongly, he began to feel the emotions that must have been in the souls of those men and women of that former time… fear, pride, determination, duty, urgency, desperation…

Saturday’s battle lasted 50 minutes, instead of the usual 30. We fired 24 of our 25 rounds. (For safety reasons we do not fire if anyone is within 50 yards in front of our cannon.) Otherwise we would have fired them all… the worry was if Sunday lasted as long, we would run out entirely. (only 25 more rounds were back at camp) We were saved the embarrassment by a lost child. On Sunday, the organizers halted the battle after 40 minutes to search for the child… who was shortly after found.(a deputy later told me a total of three had been reported as lost and eventually found.)(the other fact: the Sheriff's Deputies were unpaid volunteers!!?)

The battle was halted by the organizer shouting over the amplified sound system: "Cease Fire, Cease Fire, Resurrect!" The dead arose and reformed with their units. Several discharges continued for a few minutes as cannon, rifles, and pistols were cleared and made safe. Then the participating units were announced... all of them, blue and gray alike, were from Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas, and Mississippi. (for my foreign readers, All these are Southern {Confederate} states.

 Another interesting note: one crew brought a small mortar. They must have been using a heck of a powder charge because it made a heck of a boom. I wanted to see it worked but they put it at the far end of the firing line. The other cannon were between us. I snuck a peek or two when I could, but it was on the ground and all I saw was the smoke from the blast. From time to time a regular cannon will make a large smoke ring when it fires. This mortar made one nearly every time that I saw.

As I sat waiting for the battle to start I noticed one of the three ‘Tom Green Cavalry’ was riding an interesting looking horse with white writing on it’s neck. So, I wandered over and started a conversation. When I asked about the writing he told me the Bureau of Land Management had done it.

Do you recall news reports of the BLM horse rescue? It was an effort by the BLM to reduce damage to western lands caused by “wild” (read escaped) horses. In this program BLM would round up the wild horses on a segment of their land and offer them for sale, on the condition they not be sold to slaughter houses. (thus reducing horse meat for dog food and sale to foreign countries)… Anyway the rider had gotten the horse from the BLM.

From several feet away, the horse looked big but not tall. A closer look showed it has rather short legs… otherwise a handsome animal. It seemed totally unconcerned by the noise and activity around it… Infantry, standing a few feet behind, frequently clear their rifles by popping caps in them… so, I asked how the owner accustomed the horse to the noises of the reenactments. His reply, “Black Cat Firecrackers”

He said he tied the horse to a post and saddled it. Then he lighted the firecrackers and tossed it away to one side or the other of the horse. At first, the horse jumped and kicked, but after several bangs began to settle down. After a while the horse seemed to shake off the noise. Then the man mounted the horse and continued with the firecrackers.

As we talked, the horse sidled over toward me and began to swing it’s head over to me, ignoring the riders efforts to move him back into position. I began to scratch it’s ears and pat its face. Wife said I looked like I was petting one of our cats.

When there were pauses in my activities during the battle, I would watch this horse. Cannon before him, cannon behind him, hundreds of rifle discharges all around, and his own rider blasting away with blank pistol rounds, the horse went where directed and never seemed disturbed by the noise.

Which brings up a memory from Pleasant Hill four years ago. A cavalry rider had fallen ‘dead’ and was holding the reins of his horse. The ‘dead’ rider had to keep rolling around on the ground to keep from being trampled by his very nervous horse. Eventually, another cavalryman came and lead the horse away so the dead rider could rest in peace.

Before all this was the playing of The National Anthem. It was played to a slow beat by a single violin and accompanied by a guitar. For both Wife and I, it was very moving. If you have ever seen the Ken Burns Civil War series, the background violin is very similar… mournful without becoming a dirge.

Until next time, keep your powder dry.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Civil War Plus...

By Rob Watson

As you may know, I do a fair amount of traveling to attend Civil War Reenactments. Most are just sitting around camp and swapping old stories then standing out on a simulated battlefield loading and firing a simulated Civil War era cannon. Last month at, Pea Ridge, was an interesting change in the battle and events in camp. This month almost everything was different and interesting. We left a day early so we would not be rushed to get set up.

D'Arbonne State Park was the site of our event. They had improved camp sites with electricity (for our popup camper) so Wife decided she would like to go with me. I made reservations and was allowed to pick and reserve a campsite. I looked on the map for the most remote site and chose it. (These sites are removed from the 'period' sites where the reenacters camp in their simulated military units in canvas tents.)

The first pleasant surprise was the park itself. D'Arbonne State Park is situated in the steeply rolling hills of North Louisiana. It is set beside D'Arbonne Lake. The area is heavily wooded with large pines and oaks. It is large, clean, well maintained, and all together, a very attractive place.

Our next surprise was the campsite. It was not remote. It was completely surrounded by other campsites... the map I chose from failed to show the 50 or so additional sites in the area. All the campsites were well spaced from each other and lay beside the paved road. The road formed a large loop leaving a covered pavillion and open space in the center. This area, as well as all the campsites were in open woods and was almost completely shaded. I was, at first, irritated by a dozen or so portable canopies set up in this open area, even though they were several yards (meters) from our campsite. During the evening, an excellent pianist played some of the old 'swing' songs from the 50's.

Wife has an attractive Civil War era dress, so I asked before we left if she wanted to take it. "No, I would rather just be a spectator." In the process of setting up the camper and searching for our "regiment", Wife mentioned that she had thought of being a soldier. "I would rather be a soldier than a 'woman'. (Reenactment rules state that female soldiers have to look like men) I was surprised and very pleased by this development.

Fortunately, Wife's becoming a soldier was easily accomplished except for disguiseing her womanly shape. I had brought two sets of uniforms. (I selected my uniforms to be oversized for me so that I could wear winter wear underneath.) Wife put my pants and shirt on over her regular clothes, and with the suspenders strategically placed, took on the appearance of a slightly plump soldier. At the soldiers camp, the captain had a spare pair of period shoes, cappie, and a gray wool jacket to complete the uniform. She was then introduced around camp as 'Sam'.

The administration for the battle requested our battery put out three cannon, which left each gun short handed. In such cases, large children are sometimes allowed to 'run powder'. That is, they take the powder charge from the ammunition box (limber) and carry it to the number two gun crew member for loading the gun. However, no such children were available. 'Sam', not really familiar with this task, was reluctant to join the gun crew but agreed anyway. After several practice drills, which are always done for safety reasons, Wife became comfortable with her assigned task.

Remember the dozen canopies that surrounded the large pavillion and first irritated me? Well, on Saturday, early on the day of the first battle, as I returned to our campsite from the room of requirement, I encountered a pleasant senior citizen. She was cleaning tables in the pavillion and engaged me in conversation. She was a member of a group called D'Arbonne Dutch Oven Cooking Society, and they meet at D'Arbonne State Park on the third Saturday of every month to have a cookoff. This month was special because they had invited other societies for a regional cookoff. She invited Wife and I to join them for lunch. After some thought, I asked if it would be an imposition if I brought a dozen or so Civil War soldiers to the event as well. "Oh, yes, by all means, every one in the park was invited."

When 'Sam' and I got to the battery camp I passed the word that we had all been invited to lunch with the 'cast iron cooking society'. This was welcome news as there was a burn ban in place because of the very dry conditions. No one could cook on the ground as they usually did. (some said they were planning to eat hambergers at one of the sutlers... but, they later discovered the hamberger guy never showed) Ten of us piled into a truck and drove to the cookoff. We were fortunate to arrive early because when the line formed for food we were at the head of the line by accident. We were all in our Rebel uniforms because we had to hurry back to take our place on the battlefield. We had gathered at the raffle ticket table when people asked us to pose for pictures. We moved off to the side and formed up. Several people came over with their cameras to take pictures. Where we stood became the head of the line for food. We were fortunate in that the line for food reached nearly to the street. It would have been longer had the people not been four abreast.

There were 60 or so pots of food lined up on the tables. I, at first, tried to get something from each. It became clear this was an impracticle idea because my plate was large, but only 1/4 the required size. Turns out, each of the soldiers had the same idea and the same problem. Much of the food was 'different' in appearance and excellent in taste. I had left room for only 2 of the ten desserts. All of the time we were there, excellent, live, Blue Grass bands were providing the music.

Back at camp we were greeted with "lean hungry looks" by those who chose not to go with us. We lunch goers staggered around groaning from the great overload of food. Some lay down for naps. Then came time for battle.

Even our battlefield was unique. Normally we fight on broad, open pastures. Here we were in heavy woods. There was just enough space between trees that we could see that our field of fire was clear of people (a safety requirement). The colonel complained that he had forgotten his binoculars. "What for?" says I, "You can't see 50 yards anyway." In fact we never saw the enemy and seldom saw our own infantry. Our three guns booming and smoking away was the whole show on our end. Sam did very well at her assignment and later claimed to enjoy it.

After the battle, Sam and I walked over to the air conditioned Visitors Center to listen to a noted author describe his future book on Nathan Bedford Forrest (famous Civil War General). When walking, Wife and I normally hold hands. In this case, Sam refused to hold my hand explaining, "This is not Brokeback Mountain." NBF is one of my favorites. This author chose to describe events from his life and times that are not normally covered in other books on the man. It was very Interesting. I learned a lot. This guy also has a book out on Richard Taylor,(famous mostly in Louisiana) another of my favorites.

Returning to our campsite showed the whole cookoff crowd and their canopies had completely disappeared, as did many of the campers around us. It was then that I noticed some of the campers had marked off their spaces with strings of Christmas lights.

Sunday morning, Wife and I showered at the nice, new, clean, facilies in our campground, then dressed for church. After the service, visitors were asked to identify themselves. I was asked for our life history... I gave the short version.

The Sunday afternoon battle was a repeat of Saturday... smoke, noise, and trees. We moved the cannon back to camp by hand. Sam turned in her borrowed uniform parts and became womanly again. We said good bye and hit the road for home. Of course, there was no actual battle at D'Arbonne Landing but a good time was had by all at the 'reenactment' there.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Pea Ridge Civil War Battle Reenactment

By Rob Watson

Thursday, after an 8 hour drive, I arrived at Pea Ridge battle reenactment site. I paid my entry fee and set up camp at the top of a very high hill. The view in all directions was of rolling hills, forests, and pasture land typical of the lower Ozark region of northern Arkansas. During the night my camp was inspected by a skunk, who did not leave any odorous markers.

Friday Morning event plans called for a 7+ mile march from the reenactment site to the actual battlefield. I presume this was to reenact the march of the Confederate soldiers before the battle. Having done my share of long hikes in the Boy Scouts, I drove to the battlefield and saw the museum. Featured there was a 30 minute film describing the battle. Like Pleasant Hill in Louisiana, they claimed to be the largest Civil War Battle fought west of the Mississippi. While there I noticed a description of a third battle which also claimed to be the largest battle west of the Mississippi. I wrote the names of the three battles on a slip of paper and suggested the park service guy research these claims.

Friday Afternoon saw the reenactment of the first phase of the original battle. In this, a small group of Union soldiers tried to ambush a much larger Confederate force. These troops were routed but managed to kill the two Generals commanding the Confederates. This set the stage for the eventual defeat of the Rebel force on the following day. The most notable difference from other reenactments was the large number of expensive equipment, such as large cannon with ammunition limbers and full teams of mules to pull them. Also there were several supply wagons with horse or mule teams. The numbers of federal and rebel infantry and cavalry were much larger than I have seen before. When I asked "Why?", I was told this was a 'national' event. Further investigation showed organized units from Iowa, Illinois, and Indiana, as well as Rebel units from Arkansas and Missouri, along with larger contingents of troops from Louisiana and Texas. The troop numbers and the large size of the reenactment site allowed the Union troops and the Confederate troops to have separate encampment areas.

Friday Night, about 11:30, I was awakened by gunfire from the Union camp. This noise consisted of both musket and cannon fire. It lasted for thirty minutes after I was awakened. No night battle was on the schedule. My unit, camped down with the Confederates claimed, next morning, not to have heard anything.

Saturday morning was graced with new and strange happenings. An actual reveille was sounded at 6am. By the time I joined my unit each of the infantry units was marching and drilling about the camp site. When this was finished, a large unit near us posted guards at the entrances of their campsite. These guys were in gray uniforms. Our unit was assigned to be Union troops so we were in blue. One of our guys, feeling frisky, walked into the guarded camp and was immediately arrested as a 'spy'. His 'punishment' was to haul two arm loads of firewood for that camp. Not having learned his 'lesson' he sneaked back into their camp and carried off their flag. He was captured again, given a summery court marshal and condemned to die by firing squad. The firing squad was organized and he was "shot".

In reenactments, it is not unusual for new guys to join and be included in the action. My unit is artillery and the same is also true. Because we use significant charges of black powder in firing our gun, a number of safety practices must be followed. There are essentially four 'skill' positions on each cannon. Carelessness or ignorance can cost one a finger or a hand.

The usual practice is to place the artillery before the battle and leave it in place without moving. When not in action we will sit on the ground away from our guns to simulate not being there. Friday a spectator walked by our fixed position and asked what we were doing. Our captain told her we were not there, we were invisible. 

Because our two gun crews were knowledgeable and practiced at our positions, our captain volunteered us for a special assignment. (also because our guns could be moved easily.) The Saturday reenactment was of the phase of the battle where Union troops were attacked and driven from their camp. We were to move backward while firing at the approaching Confederates. The man in charge of this movement came by our camp to give us a brief description of our 'action' and requested we place our guns early and be ready to practice the movement.


Saturday Afternoon was interesting and stimulating in a number of respects. First was the number of troops. All Saturday morning, hundreds of troops came pouring into the reenactment site. Where Cavalry units are usually represented by four or five guys, this day we has dozens. Where infantry is reenacted by units of dozens, this day we had hundreds. Where artillery is usually 6 or 8 small cannon, today there were more than twenty, most of them the larger guns. For me, with my limited experience in reenacting, the long lines of infantry and cavalry advancing on the field, firing as they came, gave me the first impression of a real battle. It has given me the desire to see (be in) one of the really large reenactments.

Our battery consisted of four cannon, divided into two sections of two. When the battle began the four guns opened a steady fire on the advancing Confederates. As they got closer, two guns continued to fire while the other two moved back a few yards. When they were set, our two moved back behind them and they began to fire again. We then got set and loaded and began to fire again as they moved behind us. These steps were repeated several times as we retreated over 200 yards to the base of the hill. At the bottom, the rest of the cannon, another 8 or 10 guns, opened fire. It was a challenge to keep my mind on my job of loading the cannon, while all the other impressive action was going on around me.

This reenactment simulated the other half of the first days battle at Elk Horn Tavern. Here the outnumbered Union troops were driven from their camps by the second half of the Confederate command.

Saturday Night, about 11:30, the Confederate camp decided to have a night battle. Again, cannon and muskets blasted away for about a half hour. Some of my unit were awake for this and speculated that the Union camp came over and attacked them.


Sunday Morning had its own unique events. Each unit held its own religious service. Also different, the battle reenactment was held in the morning. The units were somewhat smaller than the ones from Saturday. We were again with the Union artillery. One small cannon advanced up the hill with the infantry. We stayed in place. With a little coordination, it was impressive when all 12 guns in our batteries fired at the same time.

After the battle, I parted ways with my unit, packed my camp into the car and headed home. I was less concerned with fuel economy on the way home and instead of getting the 44 mpg on the way up, I only got 42.5 mpg going home... 24 gallons of gas to go just under 1,000 miles.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

An Hour Fishing

An Hour Fishing,
By Rob Watson

Back in June, I bought a fishing boat. Because of heavy Spring rains, most waters were closed to boats. This week, the week of my 69th birthday, I decided to take time off from my chores to try out the boat and update my fishing skills. My neighbor likes to fish, so I invited him to come along. After consulting the sun and moon fishing tables, we decided today, 5am, would be the optimal time to head out.

Yesterday, I began preparing and loading. I charged the boat battery, filled the gas tank and added an extra can of equal capacity. (prompted by experiences from an earlier time) I got out two fishing poles and updated the contents of my tackle box to cover most possibilities. Wife cleaned all the life jackets. I bought health food snack bars and loaded the refrigerator with bottles of water. I cranked the boat motor, ran it, and familiarized myself with the controls. I checked all the boat tie down straps and connected the trailer to the truck. Then I went to the store and got a new fishing license and a box of worms. Wife set the alarm for 4:30.

This morning, I woke up at 4:26, put the water, ice, and box of worms in a cooler and loaded all in the truck, with the life jackets. At precisely 5am I drove up to the neighbors house. We loaded his gear into the truck and were on the road by 5:15 and in the water by our scheduled time of 5:30.

Unknown to me, our troubles began when the boat hit the water. I had forgotten to put the drain plug in place. I also forgot to take the equipment from the truck and put it in the boat until I had parked the truck a good 50 yards away. While the boat was filling with water at one end, I was filling it with equipment at the other… all by the light of the half moon. The motor grounded on the bottom and prevented the boat from taking in more than the three inches of water it already had. After some troubles getting the boat ungrounded I discovered the open drain hole and plugged it.

When I tried to start the motor, it sputtered once then refused to start. With fishing time slipping by, we paddled about 50 yards out to some trees and began to prepare our lines. Neighbor went first and could not get his reel to work properly. One of his problems was his line had wrapped around his pole and tangled. I untangled that for him. He repeatedly tried casting while I got out my pole. On one of his casts his pole hit mine… I should have been watching… and created a tangle that took 10 minutes to undo.

I got my line in the water and was feeding worms to a small fish while Neighbor actually caught one. After several more minutes, we decided to move to another spot. The motor started on the first pull of the starter rope. However, no matter how fast I set the throttle, the boat would not move. I killed the motor and we paddled back to shore. By then, neighbor was feeling sick. I set him on a bucket, On shore, while I moved the truck and loaded the boat onto it’s trailer. It took several minutes for the water to drain from the boat. Neighbor put the one tiny fish back in the lake. We drove home by the light of the rising sun.

A related post may be read by clicking on "Boating with the Boss" in my list of posts... beside this near the top.

Boating with the Boss

By Rob Watson,

My recent attempt at going fishing brought to mind an experience from many years ago... 30 years, give or take.

One of the things I enjoy most is seeing what is around the next bend or over the next hill. As a child I just walked through the woods and down the creek bottom. As a teenager I went on my bicycle. After I built the Merry Bee, she was my mode of transport. When I could afford a ski boat I added lakes and rivers to my adventures. The following action took place just after my divorce.

During this time I worked for a big electronics company in the hill country and lake country of Texas. My group got a new boss, who was also single and new to the area. My close friend had just moved out of town, 150 miles away, so, I decided to try to cultivate my new boss as a friend. To that end, I invited him to come boating with me on one of the chain of lakes in the area. Other than the spectacular scenery, another attraction, for this lake, for a couple of single guys, were a number of nude beaches... but that is another story.

My boat had two gas tanks of equal volume. My practice was to shut off one tank and run on one until it was empty, then switch to the other. That way I knew when it was time to start back the way I had come. On this particular day we launched the boat and filled the tanks at the first marina. We dawdled at a couple of beaches then proceeded to cruise up the lake toward the dam of the lake above. After a time we left the lake proper and got into the river above it. Then the river began to narrow. We cruised past the last marina and kept on going.

After sightseeing for a few miles, the engine died. A sign the first tank was empty. I went to switch tanks. The problem was the fuel valve to the second tank was open, as was the valve to the first tank. Both tanks were empty, completely empty. Here begins one of the strangest conversations of my life.

I say to my boss, "We are out of gas."
His reply, "What do you mean, we are out of gas?"

I say to my boss, "We are OUT of gas."
His reply, "What do you mean, we are out of gas?"

I say to my boss, "We are OUT OF GAS."
His reply, "What do you mean, we are out of gas?"

So, I point to the first gas tank, saying, "See that gas tank? It is empty." then I point to the second gas tank, "See that gas tank? It is empty." Then I repeat, "We are out of gas!"

His reply, "You mean we are out of gas?" "Yes," says I, "We are out of gas."

And it was so. Out of gas, miles from the nearest marina, in a big heavy boat, with one small paddle. I began to consider a way out of our predicament. We had passed a small landing area a few hundred yards back. I had seen a truck and boat trailer there. A truck ment a road. A road would lead to a bigger road. I could then hitch a ride to a gas station and get a can and get gas. The boss could relax in the boat and watch it. There was plenty of food and drink.

As we paddled back toward the landing, I saw a small fishing boat headed our way. In the back of his boat I could see a one gallon gas can. I asked if it was full, and offered him $5 for the gas... This was back when gas was less than a dollar a gallon. He said he would take one dollar. We made the exchange... My boat got 3 miles to the gallon and we were 5 or 6 miles from the marina.

I started the motor and set the speed just above Idle, hoping fuel economy from the slower speed would get us back. As we puttered back down the river, visions of my youth and days on the lake back home came to mind. Back then, anyone with a big yard always had a can of gas for mowing their property. I told the boss to look for mowed property beside the river, they would have gas. Eventually, we came upon a large mowed lot with a house on it. I landed the boat and hiked up to the house. The owner was there. He sold me the gas from his full 5 gallon can for $5.

My boss spent the rest of his tenure with our group proclaiming my extraordinary problem solving abilities. To which I always silently replied, "Even a blind hog finds an acorn now and then."

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Salt from Laeso

By Rob Watson

The best story is from the salt processor, a former school teacher: Salt processing was begun in Laeso about 1100 AD when a subsurface source of concentrated brine was discovered there, and discontinued in the late 1600's when all the trees on the island were gone. In the mid 20th century the Danish forest service planted trees on the island. By the 1990s a few citizens decided to revive the old business and began excavating the old salt processing area. They eventually discovered most of the methods used formerly... boil the brine until the salt becomes dry. But the salt was brown and tasted bitter. The school teacher began researching. He found a mine in Germany that used a similar process but got good salt. He went there and watched the process and asked some questions. Turns out, the brine is heated at 80C until 2/3 of the water is gone, then reduce the temperature to 65C... afterwards slowly adding water and removing the salt that precipitates out for 6 days. "By then the remaining solution of water and calcium carbonate is brown and tastes like horse piss." to which our teacher replied "I don't know what horse piss tastes like." (This remaining water is then fully dehydrated and sold as "bath salts" (really!)) The good salt that comes out of the brine is wet and "fluffy" (I think something is being lost in translation on the fluffy part) It is then air dried in woven conical shaped baskets.

When the trees were all gone, the men of Laeso discovered they could go to their roof tops and spot ship wrecks on the margins of the island... a fine source of building materials and goods if no one survived... and a fine source of rent if any did survive (many homes had extra rooms to rent to survivors.) Records show 10 to twenty wrecks a year were common. On the highest hill in the island is a tower, nearly 30 meters tall, from which you can see anything around the island, except for the trees. Some years after this new source of income was developed, a newcomer to the island thought it would be nice to plant some trees. Mysteriously, the next day all the trees were found uprooted. (when Shirley's father emigrated from the island about 1916 it was still completely devoid of trees and tall bushes.)