I'm sitting in a meeting with a bunch of agronomists talking about climate change and how it might affect crops. As the meeting wraps up, the conversation tacks down along a new topic: a quest for a new grain. The agronomists all solidly believe that this grain is possible, though potentially unstable. My professor and I, not being agronomists, do not have such gut-level feelings. The talk goes back and forth and suddenly my professor's talking about getting some funding, saying that Richard could solve this problem. Then he looks over, laughs, and says, "Richard doesn't know if he can solve it, but I do."

Kathur and I decided that the end of the summer would be a good time to adventurate… in Glacier National Park. But we were both a bit busy, so then it became Isle Royale, then the Superior Hiking Trail, then a day of climbing in Red Wing, and then an afternoon of tree climbing in my uncle's backyard.

Still, the tree was epic! A 70–80' maple, it soared and spread above us. Even after ten or fifteen minutes of looking, there seemed to be no good route into the tree, so I finally just started throwing for a difficult branch. The first shot was about a foot off, the next few went wild, but the last arced beautifully. The entire spool of throw line needed unwinding to pull the end of the rope up and over in order to isolate the branch I wanted. On the buy-list: some kind of spool with a turny-handle for rapid reeling of this line! Preferrably something manageable I can take up into the tree with me.

The branch was a good choice and brought me up to an elevated bifurcation in the trunk from whence I was able to climb upwards with my lanyard on a series of 8-inch limbs leading, eventually, to a 40–50' anchor point. Kathur came all the way up to take a look around, but then discovered a fear of heights, and went back down. On my way down, I decided to do some branch-walking, and it was great! The high anchor point coupled with the spread of the tree afforded wide access to most of the lower limbs. After tugging out another big deadfall (seems like there are a good number of these), I've decided a helmet might be a good idea too…

Scoot called me up one day and asked if I'd like to climb up the IDS Tower, the highest building in Minnesota.

Of course I did!

We met by the library and walked over to the IDS Tower while catching up on the summer. Inside, there was a plaza surrounded by shops and, behind a desk with a gun-wielding security guard, there were banks and banks of elevators. Looking confident, we walked onto a set of elevators, felt the g-forces crush our stomachs, and promptly ended up on the 35th floor. A lady we met there told us about a different, special bank of elevators leading up farther.

Returning to the lobby, we found these and got out stomachs crushed again. For the first half of the ride there was no indication of which floors we were passing and then, suddenly, on the 36th floor, the elevator began binging and ticking off the floors we were passing.

With a final bing, the doors slid open and we stepped out into… a hallway.

On either side of us, at the ends of the hallway, were offices bearing only names (e.g. "Frank, Miller, and Larry" and "George, Sam, and Edward"). Only one profession I know of does this sort of thing: lawyers. Through the glass of their office doors, we could see into plush interiors with dark wood, through interior windows to conference rooms, and through the conference rooms to the exterior windows, which admitted a view extending to the very horizon, with glimpses of lakes and occasional buildings poking upwards.

We were at the highest point in Minneapolis! Looking out, into the hazy distance, I was reminded of The Lonely Skyscraper, the heart-warming story of a skyscraper not unlike the IDS Tower, which stands in the middle of a large, grey city, but sees a distant blotch of green on the horizon. The skyscraper feels very lonely at night, and nobody cares about it much, so one dark night it pulls up its roots and begins to walk out of the city.

By sometime the next day, it's left the city far behind and is in the middle of a forest. At first, the animals of the forest are frightened, but, one by one, they begin to explore the skyscraper and to build nests and homes inside it, using old legal files and the like as material. The story finishes with the skyscraper feeling very happy, wanted, and cared for.

As I mull over this, I make a trip to the bathroom.

When I emerge Scoot is having a conversation… with a police officer. And, though none of us say anything about it directly, we all know what's going on, and ride the elevator down together.

Leaving the IDS Tower, Scoot and I decide we should try again, somewhere else. So we go to the Foshay Tower. At 30 stories, it was the highest building in Minneapolis for four decades. We get into the elevator to go to the top, and find that it doesn't work without swipe card. Luckily, at just that moment a guy gets into the elevator and swipes his card. Up we go!

The door at the top opens and there is a desk directly facing it. A desk with a man. The man looks at us, "Have you got tickets?" "Nooooooo......"

Behind us the doors slide open again and a different guy steps out, "Where the F*** is my room?" The desk attendant gives us the eye and we all get on the elevator, he swipes his admin-card, punches a button for the lost man's floor and the ground floor, and then gets off, still looking at us.

But, with the doors closed, we are free. Free to get off on the 8th floor, where we shouldn't be, and look around. And let me tell you, the whole Foshay Tower is swanky. There is no other word for it.

Not yet satiated, we take the skywalk system to the Capalla Tower and, informed by previous experience, take the special elevators right away.

More law offices. We decide to take the stairs down a level to see if things are any better.

And this, it turns out was a mistake. The door on the next floor down is locked, and the door after that. And it is with growing horror that we realise that the next unlocked door will be at ground level… 57 floors below.

There are parts of the ensuing experience which I do not remember. Floor after endless floor went by us. ~780 feet worth of stairs. In the middle, we met another person, and followed him off of the stairs and into the middle of a busy corporate office. Feeling very conspicuous, and very out of place, we went back into the purgatory of the stair well.

Just as my thighs were giving out, we burst out of the stairwell into a looong concrete hallway and, after some searching, found a door through which we could hear the sound of traffic. With a last push we were free!

Thought about going and finishing off the Superior Hiking Trail this weekend, but I'm looking into Fulbrights, DAADs, and whether or not to take classes this Fall. I promise I'm gonna finish that trail, but I'm also trying to plan the major steps in my life a little farther in advance.

The other day, Nels wanted to go to Ikea, and I'd seen a $20 flash drive in a Best Buy catalog, and Alida had spent on the night on account of being homeless, so we all piled into Nels' van and drove down together while listening to the Ikea Song.

Long ago in days of yore
It all began with a god named Thor
There were Vikings and boats
And some plans for a furniture store
It's not a bodega, it's not a mall
And they sell things for apartments smaller than mine
As if there were apartments smaller than mine

Ikea: just some oak and some pine and a handful of Norsemen
Ikea: selling furniture for college kids and divorced men
Everyone has a home
But if you don't have a home you can buy one there

At the Ikea, we all had breakfast: French Toast Sticks! Nels bought a black candle lantern so he can wander the house as a ghostly visage at night (he's a bit of an insomniac) and I marveled at the compact furniture.

I decided not to get the flash drive, but I did have another piece of buisness.

I had brought my bull whip with.

A couple of years ago, on the morning I was leaving Bristol on my way to Greenland, I walked across the Downs as per usual. But, on the far side, while passing by the tower, I noticed something odd: a long thing lying in the grass. Upon closer inspection, I realised it was a whip.

Now, this sort of thing could be viewed as a coincidence, but I preferred to interpret it as a sign. A sign that I was supposed to learn how to use the bull whip.

I picked it up out of the dewy grass and recalled how, only recently, the circus carnival which had been set up on the Downs for several weeks had moved on. They wouldn't be coming back…

So the bull whip travelled with me to the Ends of the Earth and back. Once I was settled in 919, I began learning to use it, but quickly found that the old popper on the end wasn't working so well any more and that there was no one to teach me how to make a new one.

… Hence our visit to Tandy Leather, by the Mall of America. The two old men, one large and relatively vocal, compared to his slim, silent companion poked, prodded, and smelled the whip. They tugged at it, they examined the handle. From Australia, they said, though it was cow-hide and not kangeroo-leather.

Then the larger man, speaking in his South African accent, told me how once a circus had come to his town and how he'd thought to himself that this, at last, was his chance to talk about whips with the people who really knew about them. He snuck in the back of the circus and found the elephant man first, but he didn't have a whip. Next he met the tiger trainer, whose whip was old, ratty, and patched. Finally, he found the lion tamer, who gushed pride about his whip… which was plastic.

"I felt like the little boy who has discovered there is no Father Christmas," the leatherman said to me, a look of faded sorrow flitting across his face. I grinned, and told him my story.

The other day, I was over at PG's place for a little get-together, when the Swiss CouchSurfers she was planning to host gave us a call. Problem was, they didn't speak much English, and we didn't speak much French, so all we could interpret over the phone was that there had been some problem with the van. PG and I left the house at a jog and I drove us to where they were in her car.

Some problem was an understatement! They had managed to drive the van (which they'd bought a few days before in Chicago) into a median. When they hit, the van kept going, but the front wheels did not. They were trapped beneath the van and had left long ruts in the grass. PG the young couple on a walk through the sculpture garden while I tried to find a tow service.

Numerous calls and a long wait later, Duke showed up. He was Hispanic, with well-accented English. So now we had three languages to work with! Once Duke had got the van towed away, we took a swing by PG's and gave fortifying chocolate wine to the CSers.

But the night was still young, so we took a walk over a waterfall and then brought them, along with a quarter of the coop, up onto the physics building, where saw the stars and Adam (a vocal major living at the coop) sang to us in operatic French.

I didn't get a chance to meet up with the CSers for any part of the rest of their stay, but I heard later that Duke had somehow got their van repaired overnight, in time for them to make their departure, and fixed a few other issues at the same time, allowing them to go above fifty-five without violent vibrations.

The other day, I met EWB's project coordinator standing outside in the afternoon sunlight, smoking. In the past, I've helped him through a few impossible programming and orbital-physics problems. He waved as I came up, "I was thinking of you today!"


"Yeah, our professor was lecturing on this problem and mentioned berets, so I sketched you with your beret in my notebook. See, you're gesticulating!"

Check if this is a private message just for Richard: