Finally a Mailbox

The past fifteen years I’ve gotten mail everywhere but in my own mailbox. Much of it has to do with my traveling ways. It’s hard to blame the post man for not filling your letter box if you’re never around – and don’t own a mailbox.

It’s something I finally got around to correcting.

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Home, sweet, barely visible home. It’s a fifteen minute round trip walk from my house to the new mail box. Look closely and you can see my oak and tin abode above the fence.

I’ve spent a good deal of the past 15 years traveling the world by boat, mule and bike. Between journeys, I’d find a place to stay – for a few months to a few years – then carry on.

There were the semi-stationary addresses – strings of rented barn apartments, regular apartments and hunt boxes (horse stalls below, digs above) – mostly in Southern Pines, North Carolina. There were sea level addresses (thanks Keith and Melinda) and others on mountain tops (howdy Kristin and Grant).

There were even government addresses with tiny brass doors – that’s called a PO Box.

There were times of no address at all. On the road I got mail the old fashioned traveler’s way – General Delivery. General Delivery Tecumseh, Oklahoma while traveling by mule and pack pony across America. General Delivery Keyes, Oklahoma heading south to Mexico with a yellow wagon. Overseas, in French territories like New Caledonia, it sounded even grander – “Post Restante”.

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Woody and Maggie, the mule and pony with which I traveled across the USA

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Where does the postman leave the mail when you live in a tipi? Answer: General Delivery at the nearest post office. My digs for 13 months as I traveled by mule across America (Butterfield Trail, AZ)

This getting mail all around drove the search engines bug house nuts.

Hell, over the years I’ve had so many addresses when I searched my address online I learned I lived in St Thomas, USVI. Oh, right… In the late 1990s I ran aground a few months in the Caribbean. (I was giving riding lessons so I could earn enough money to sail on to the Pacific – which I did).

Of course all of this spun through my head as I attached the trace chain that attached the locust log to mule.

Say what?

These past months, I’ve been re-jigging my life after my mom and dad’s death. Both were in their eighties. Both spent their final days at home (mom died in Hospice but stayed in her house until the very last days). Home. It was important they stay there as long as possible. Which they did.

Which is why, on a recent morning, I found myself hooking a mule to a log.

I’ve spent the past months on my farm. Tucked away in the Blue Ridge Foothills, it’s become more than the place I dreamed about during gales at sea. Time was, stumbling across some desert with mule Wood and pony Maggie, I’d yearn of returning to my Carolina farm. But I’d keep on walking, only returning to the Foothills property long enough to catch my breath. Then I’d strike out again.

These days it’s home. It’s where I cook and sleep and mornings, when I look out the window, I may see a mule grazing in the yard.

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The view from my kitchen window. Some days, there’s a mule to be seen mowing the lawn.

My home only lacked one thing – a mailbox.

Every home needs a mailbox. And every mailbox needs a good stout post. Ideally, locust. Locust is damn near rot proof. It’s in the acacia family so reminds me of Africa, giraffes and Hemingway.

All I had to do was jerk one out of the forest. I’m lucky. I’ve got plenty of them. This would definitely a job for Sandy.

Sandy is my buddy Ronald’s mule. While, ordinarily I would use my mule Polly for such a job, that was out. She was in Asheboro. Sandy was in the back yard.

So I harnessed her and we stepped in to the forest.

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I set out with mule Sandy in one hand and a chain saw in the other. Dragging behind Sandy is a metal single tree and chain, used for pulling logs. From the barn we followed a forested creek up the valley to where the locust grows. There…

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…I tied Sandy to a tree while I rested my saw on a locust log, figuring how I would cut it up. These trees had blown down many years ago but were still perfectly sound. Locust is one of the Foothills’ most decay resistant woods….

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…as this log demonstrates. The sawn log is locust. The rotten dark mass on top is an oak tree that fell on top of the locust and rotted away.

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Once I had the logs cut in to 16-foot pieces, I hitched them to Sandy and let her pull the logs down the hill. That morning, we hauled out 3 logs. That afternoon….

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…Sandy enjoyed a nap in the back yard. Hanging out with her is Buddy, a saddle mule I’ve used for some North Carolina jaunts. including a neat trip through the Uwharrie Range

Of all the logs I snaked with Sandy, one stood out. It had a “Y” shaped branch at the end. Perfect, I reckoned, for holding a mailbox.

I hand dug a hole at the end of my driveway. I plopped the branched post in and tamped her tight. My home was complete.

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The final result. I’d wager it’s the only mailbox in the area built of mule-skidded materials.

And so it came to be that, after sixteen years of not having one, I have a letter box. It’s big and black and above it, on the post, is screwed my street address – 2449. The green numbers have a ragged, feathery edge. The metal snips were dull. The tin roofing was strong. The good news is they cost me nothing.

So that’s how my letter box came to be. Hope all’s well where you’re getting your mail. Drop a line any time.

2014-09-17 20:23:18

Heads up! The pony express should be galloping by that nice mailbox in the next couple of days. Hope all goes well at 2449 Zack’s Fork Rd. What an address!

pat gabriel
2015-01-01 19:28:21

Checking back in to see what you have been doing. I am very sorry for your losses.
Hope you are well. It seems that you are not posting very frequently. I am living in Newton, NH and if you visit your friend Julia, maybe I could meet you. I admire what you do and enjoyed your book. Someday I hope to travel a bit around NH in a very modest version of your set up.
Best Wishes for the New Year! I loved the tv spot on public television. Your vardo is awesome.
Pat Gabriel


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[…] Using mules to pull locust logs out of the forest: Building a platform for my mailbox […]


[…] Find a crack that looks like it’s running in the direction you want to split. Insert your first wedge in the post’s face. Tap it in to place then add a second wedge as the post starts to split. Note all the protection I’m wearing – steal toe boots, sawing chinks and helmet. You’ll note I’m just holding the 8-pound sledge over my head and dropping it on the wedges. I’m lazy and prefer to let the sledge do the work. Look closely and you’ll see my legs are splayed way apart. The emergency room is a long way from the top of the mountain. Getting close. Success! If I want a corner post, I’ll leave these pieces as they are. Since I want to make rails, I’ll split each half of the post 4 more times. This log will give me 8 hefty rails. Loaded and ready to go. My tractor is a 30 horse power New Holland TC 30. It’s relatively light so I can’t haul too much behind it. These posts weighed so much, when I stood on them, the front of the tractor reared up. Be careful when you drive a load like this over water bars. The material assembled in the barn yard. Skidding locust logs with mule Sandy. You can read more about that here. […]

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