On Rabble Rousing

“How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, but no one can tame the tongue–a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God.”

The Bible, James 3:5-9

On Preparing for the Coming of Winter


“Passed a very little boy in the street to-day, who had on a home-made cap of a woodchuck-skin, which his father or elder brother had killed and cured, and his mother or elder sister had fashioned into a nice warm cap. I was interested by the sight of it, it suggested so much of family history, adventure with the chuck, story told about it, not without exaggeration, the human parents’ care of their young these hard times. Johnny was promised many times, and now the work was completed, — a perfect little idyl, as they say. The cap was large and round, big enough, you would say, for the boy’s father, and had some kind of cloth visor stitched to it. The top of the cap was evidently the back of the woodchuck, as it were expanded in breadth, contracted in length, and it was as fresh and handsome as if the woodchuck wore it himself. The great gray-tipped wind hairs were all preserved, and stood out above the brown only a little more loosely than in life. As if he put his head into the belly of a woodchuck, having cut off his tail and legs and substituted a visor for the head. The little fellow wore it innocently enough, not knowing what he had on, forsooth, going about his small business pit-a-pat; and his black eyes sparkled beneath it when I remarked on its warmth, even as the woodchuck’s might have done. Such should be the history of every piece of clothing we wear.”

— Henry David Thoreau, February 28, 1860; painting by N.C. Wyeth, from Men of Concord (1936)


“You get the feeling that even though he knows the right answers — work hard, persevere — the universe is asking different questions.”

— Jeff MacGregor in his profile of Mixed Martial Arts fighter Shannon “The Cannon” Ritch (43 wins/68 losses), “Making the Best of Bad,” in ESPN Magazine, September 21, 2009

On Chasing a Pig

“Twice he ran up the narrow street, because he knew I did not wish it, but though the main street was broad and open and no traveller in sight, when I tried to drive him past this opening he invariably turned his piggish head toward me, dodged from side to side, and finally ran up the narrow street or down the main one, as if there were a high barrier erected before him. But really he is no more obstinate than I. I cannot but respect his tactics and his independence. He will be he, and I may be I. He is not unreasonable because he thwarts me, but only the more reasonable. He has a strong will. He stands upon his idea. There is a wall across the path not where a man bars his way, but where he is resolved not to travel. Is he not superior to man therein? Once more he glides down the narrow street, deliberates at a corner, chooses wisely for him, and disappears through an openwork fence eastward. He has gone to fresh gardens and pastures new.”

— Henry David Thoreau, “Catching a Pig,” August 8, 1856

Litter in Skaneateles, Labor Day

I have great respect for firemen, and the volunteer firemen of Skaneateles in particular, and I hope that next year their fund-raiser is a bridge tournament, rather than a carnival directly across the street from my house. More specifically, I hope their carnival is not followed by a holiday, during which the workers of the Village and Town are absent from our streets and fields, which are left strewn with litter of every description. This morning, I was faced with the choice of either looking at trash all day, or picking it up myself, and I chose the latter. For two hours, dragging bags and boxes across Austin Park, I picked up cans, plastic bottles, paper cups, necklaces of stars and beads in blue and red, wadded napkins, paper French fry boats coated with ketchup, paper plates that once held “Elephant Ears” or “Funnel Cakes,” clots of black electrician’s tape, lipstick, lip gloss, cigarette packs, butane lighters, an empty blister-pack that once held a pill for the treatment of diarrhea, candy wrappers, exploded and limp inflatable toys, dead balloons, and special treasures like five, count ’em, five loaded diapers, plus wipes, and tissues used to wipe someone’s soiled butt. There was an empty box that once held three “snug fit” Lifestyles condoms; my sincere “thank you” goes to whoever disposed of the contents elsewhere. There was also a Goodyear “VIVA 2” tire, well-trodden campaign literature from some aspirant to elected office, a geography textbook from someone who couldn’t find a wastebasket, a pair of truly ugly yellow athletic shoes, a roll of paper towels soaked in motor oil, five blue plastic motor oil bottles, imported cups from merchants such as Taco Bell, MacDonald’s and Burger King, a New York State Fair program, a sippy cup, a pacifier (green), a garbage bag holding an empty champagne bottle, a pizza box, a broken Bud Light bottle (light beer is still the universal beer of litterers), one dime, one nickel and four pennies. I kept the cash for myself.


“I sometimes see a neighbor or two united with their boys and hired men to drive their cattle to some far-off country pasture, fifty or sixty miles distant in New Hampshire, early in theĀ  morning, with their sticks and dogs. It is a memorable time with the farmers’ boys, and frequently their first journey from home. The herdsman in some mountain pasture is expecting them. And then in the fall, when they go up to drive them back, they speculate as to whether Janet or Brindle will know them. I heard such a boy exclaim on such an occasion, when the calf of the spring returned a heifer, as he stroked her side, ‘She knows me, father; she knows me.'”

— Henry David Thoreau, “Cattle Driving” (1850)

On Holding Up Your End of the Conversation

“I think of characters who will carry a story. The plot comes out of the characters, their attitudes. How they talk describes who they are. Dialogue, in fact, is the element that keeps the story moving. Characters are judged as they appear. Anyone who can’t hold up his or her end of a conversation is liable to be shelved, or maybe shot.”

— Elmore Leonard in “Making It Up as I Go Along” in the July/August 2009 AARP magazine; thanks to Lee Baker