I’ve been on the road and in the air pretty continuously for the past nine days, pursuing the sorts of ridiculously complicated travel that I used to do all time time during my original stint with TREE Fund, but which I’ve (thankfully) not endured often during the years beyond the Anno Virum.
My first leg was a flight from Phoenix to Charlotte, North Carolina, following a two-hour drive to the airport that began at 4:30 AM. I went to Charlotte to attend the semi-annual in-person TREE Fund Board Meeting, at the amazing Bartlett Tree Research Laboratories. The organization’s incoming CEO joined us, and it was truly great to have him with us. My current term as TREE Fund’s Interim President/CEO will end on July 1, when we’ll engage in the traditional “I had it, you got it” hand-off of the reins.
I had a free afternoon after the meeting ended, so I took the opportunity to visit my Dad’s hometown of Albemarle, North Carolina, seeing lots of nostalgic sights and eating what I consider to be the world’s best barbecue at Whispering Pines, an iconic local establishment since the 1940s, and the first place I can consciously recall having classic Carolina smoked meat. A big pile of chopped pork barbecue, just smoked, no sauce necessary, some tater tots and hush puppies gave this boy a happy, happy belly. Slightly sadder: I visited my grandparents’ graves in Albemarle. In life, they really cared about where they were to be buried (they had bought their plot many years before they died, and used to take us out to see it when we’d visit), but it’s a bit shabby looking all these years on, and their shared grave marker is in bad shape, the flower urn that was mounted on it having been twisted off, and the stone itself seeming to have sunk irregularly into the ground. I guess “perpetual care” is an easy concept to sell to the living, but a hard one to enforce on behalf of the deceased. Too bad.
That bit of family business done, I headed over to the Uwharrie Mountains, a weird and beautiful ancient forest range just east of Albemarle. In the heart of the Uwharries sits the Kron Homestead. Francis Kron was a prominent early 19th century country doctor who had a farm in the Uwharries. People perceived him as being very wealthy (probably a racist element there, as he was an immigrant Prussian of Jewish ancestry), so legends emerged soon after his death (and then were reinforced after the deaths of his unmarried daughters) that he had buried a fortune in gold somewhere on his property, but that he had cursed it so that the spirits buried there would protect it.
People have been digging around the property ever since, including in the family’s cemetery, looking for the elusive Kron Gold. When I was a little kid, it was a really, truly scary place to visit, because it was way back in the woods, with all the stones knocked over and lots of evidence of grave-robbing attempts. And then there was the fact that “The Legend of the Kron Gold” was one of the more frightening chapters in Ghost Tales of the Uwharries, a seriously scary book written by my grandfather’s friend, Fred T. Morgan. I used to read it most every time I went to Albemarle, and it always gave me the jibblies.
At some point, the North Carolina State Park Service seems to have decided that preserving the Kron graveyard was a lost cause. All of the old markers except for Dr. Kron and his wife’s obelisk have been removed, but the stone walls around the burial plot in the woods remain. It is still kinda creepy: you are in these dark, shadowy woods, with a strange monument that does not seem to belong there appearing as you walk through the forest. Someone (or something) had been making sacrifices recently, as there were animal bones in the middle of the plot. I didn’t do any digging, so hopefully the ghosts did not follow me back to the hotel in Charlotte, or onward to the next legs of my trek.
From Charlotte, I flew up to Minneapolis, meeting Marcia there. Many of her surviving siblings, nieces and nephews gathered for one of her sisters’ 75th Birthday, and all of the sisters present also got to watch the Twins beat the Padres at Target Field. We drove by the house Marcia grew up in, and the church right behind it, where we were married in 1989. We also visited the George Floyd Memorial site, just nine blocks due east of her home; you can see the tower of the church where we were wed from the stoop where George was murdered. We then went out to the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, had a great Mother’s Day Dinner at Barbette, and got to spend some nice time with friends from Sedona who decamp for Minnesota during the hot summer months in Arizona. I also visited Fort Snelling National Cemetery and paid respects to Marcia’s parents, who are buried there.
That leg of the journey complete, I flew on to Annapolis, Maryland via Thurgood Marshall BWI Airport, with a stop at Chicago O’Hare, getting to see our old condo building at 340 East Randolph as we flew in over Lake Michigan. My writing partner, Jim McNeal, and I had a book-signing scheduled at the U.S. Naval Academy during the annual “Plebes No More” ceremonial climbing of the Herndon Monument. We had a front-row seat for the climb, which was great to see, 40 years after our class completed it. This year’s ex-plebes, the Class of 2026, took two hours and 31 minutes to finish the task; our class (1986) did it in one hour and 44 minutes. It’s a thing to experience, for sure, and it was surprisingly emotional for me to see this year’s ex-plebes get ‘er done, remembering clearly how amazing it felt in May of 1983 to know that my own plebe year was finally, thankfully, permanently done.
I flew back from Annapolis (via Charlotte) to Phoenix, meeting Marcia there as she came in on her own flight from Minneapolis. Another two-hour drive, and we finally made it home last night. A busy, tiring trip, but lots of great visits embedded therein, so worth it all, in the final analysis. As always, I snapped myself some photos along the way, and share them with you below, each of the three destinations with its own album over at my Flickr site. Click and forage, as you see fit!