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Our Best American Essays


Autumnal Equinox

categories: Cocktail Hour / Our Best American Essays

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In late August, more emphatically in September, the garden begins to die.  First frost in our valley location is generally within a week or two of Labor Day, and follows the olden wisdom: beware the full moon.  The first hard freeze (a full night at twenty degrees or lower–as opposed to mere frost) might wait till the next full moon, but then again, it might come any night at all, starting late August.  One looks to the evening sky after a perfect, clear day as the stars emerge and can almost see the heat flying up and up and gone.  The cold drops in.  I throw old sheets over the tomatoes the way my elderly neighbor Isabel Hammond showed me before she died, pull a tarp over the basil and cover the cucurbits (cumbers, squashes, pumpkins).  Some years I do nothing but mourn: you can’t stop winter. Continue reading →

Greatest Sportswriter of 2013? David Gessner!

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The Greatest Sportswriter

 

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USA Today has picked our own David Gessner’s essay “Ultimate Glory” as one of the greatest pieces of sportswriting for 2013.  That puts him in great company, of course, and puts Bill and Dave’s Cocktail Hour on the list with ESPN.com and The New Yorker.  Here’s the link, and now, here’s the essay: Continue reading →

Getting Outside Saturday: “Scioto Blues”

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The Scioto and Downtown Columbus

[This essay is from my book Into Woods and originally appeared in The Missouri Review.  Later, Harper’s picked up an excerpt for their “Readings” section.  It was written in about 1998, and since then I’ve developed a much fonder feeling for Columbus.]

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Scioto Blues

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If you move to Columbus, Ohio, from Farmington, Maine, you will not be impressed by the landscape.  It’s flat around Columbus and the pre-prairie rivers move sluggish and brown.  In Maine you pick out the height of flood on, say, the Sandy River, by the damage to tree trunks and the spookily exact plane made by ice and roaring current tearing off the lowest branches of riverside trees.  In Columbus you pick out the height of flood on the Olentangy or Scioto rivers Continue reading →

Vernal Equinox

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23.4 degrees

Here is the equal night again, so different from that of autumn, which comes dressed in summer.  In fact, the first day of spring comes to Maine in high winter drag.  Often it comes dressed in snow, thick and wet, mixed with rain.

For me in March most of the pleasure in watching snow accumulate has fled.  I decline to shovel the driveway, thinking, Snow’ll be gone soon enough, and pay for that when the slush left over freezes in deep ridges that last weeks in a cold snap.  I consider the skis—but the snow is so wet and heavy, and I’ve been thinking about my bicycle, my hiking boots.  Soon enough.

But, of course, it’s not soon enough.  It’s weeks, sometimes, in grinding cycles of melt and freeze, and melt and freeze again.  And again.  Time never moves so slowly as in the transition from winter to spring in Maine.  By March the mind’s night has got very long, and I have gotten used to it, gotten cozy alone in there, in my thoughts.  Continue reading →

SUMMERS WITH JULIET is Twenty

categories: Cocktail Hour / Our Best American Essays / Reading Under the Influence

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Summers with Juliet, published February, 1992

 

Summers With Juliet started as an idea for a personal essay, one of my first ever (before that I’d only written formal essays and fiction), nothing more than this: My not-yet wife and I had seen an enormous fish in Menemsha Pond, Martha’s Vineyard, a sea sunfish, Mola Mola. One January day I started to write that story, and by late March, I finished it. After a year of revising and Continue reading →

A Letter to a Neighbor

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           You will be moving into your new home soon and, as ours is a small community, the neighborly thing for me to do would be to bring by a tin of cookies or fudge.  Instead I send this letter.  Cowardly by nature, I’ll probably slip it under your door.  It’s not the sort of thing likely to elicit the smile brought on by a note from an old friend, or even the irritated glance aimed at junk mail, and you’ll surely toss it aside at some point.  If I had the courage to stick around while you read my words, you’d no doubt turn to me and counter my own flimsy, idealistic arguments with more solid and practical ones.  “What right do you have to tell me what to do with my land?” you’d ask.  “I bought it with my own hard-earned money.  Furthermore, if I hadn’t built my house here, the place would be checkered with subdivisions.”

            You’d be right of course.  And I should be grateful the land wasn’t further developed.  But I’m an ingrate, and ingrates, by nature, complain.  

            “It’s a goddamn desecration of place,” another of your new neighbors said recently.  That’s the word–desecration–that keeps coming up when I think of what you’ve done to your land.  I don’t use the word lightly; in fact, I use it just as it was meant to be used.

  Continue reading →

Our Best American Essays: Shitdiggers, Mudflats, and the Worm Men of Maine

categories: Cocktail Hour / Getting Outside / Our Best American Essays

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Shitdiggers, Mudflats, and the Worm Men of Maine

by Bill Roorbach

 

 

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“Hard work,” says Dicky Butts, and we haven’t even started yet.

.            “Get wet today,” says Truman Lock.  He pulls his greying beard, squints out over the bay.  The blast of an offshore wind (strong enough to blow the boat and its no-lights trailer halfway into the oncoming lane as we made the drive over) is piling white­caps, spraying their tops, Continue reading →

Getting Outside Saturday: Field Notes on My Daughter

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We moved from Cape Cod to Carolina about eight and a half years ago.  I wrote this soon after our first school year in the South ended, when we returned to the Cape in June.  It turned out we weren’t the only ones with a new baby and this is the story of how we interacted with another pair of parents and their off-spring.  It was originally published in the great journal Isotope.  Long may it live! 

 

 

FIELD NOTES ON MY DAUGHTER

 

 

 

1. Fox

 

During these joyous days back on Cape Cod I am taking field notes on both the local foxes and Hadley.   Hadley is now just over a year old, a completely different animal than the one who moved south: a walking, talking, gesturing hominoid.   Last night she rode my shoulders to the beach, and we found that a fox family had built a den in the seawall rocks.  Hadley pointed at them and said “cat,” the word she is stamping on everything these days.  Still, if her term for them was not entirely accurate, she was close.  The two kits, their legs covered with black stockings, ambled right up to us, and she could barely contain her excitement.  Meanwhile, I tried to maintain my scientific sobriety, taking notes on their black eyes, their white-tipped tails, their foolish trust.        

 

            Hadley’s physical development, like those of chimps and apes, her closest relations among primates, is relatively slow compared to other animals, these foxes for instance.  In humans, physical growth, height and size, is retarded because time is required for us to learn the complex, symbolic and ever-changing world of our species.   But the mental growth is wild.  You see it in Hadley’s eyes and her hands and in her intense interaction with the physical world.  Not long ago I taught her how to snap, and now she moves around the house going at it like a Beat poet.  Her prose poem of course is made up of that one obsessive word, “Cat,” though she inflects a hundred emotions from the sound.  The other night she woke up from a dream and said quite clearly: “Cat.  A cat.”  The alliterative and vaguely homonymous “Cow” has also leaked out, so you get the feeling that a hundred other words are gathering, readying, almost a cloudburst.    Continue reading →

Ultimate Glory

categories: Cocktail Hour / Our Best American Essays

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Those who enjoyed this essay, might like this one too: KID OF THE YEAR.  Which gets at the roots of my somewhat overdeveloped competitive instincts.

As for the essay below, I’ve been thrilled by the response.  At this point, over 32,000 of you have seen it, with the help of Longform and USA Today, and plenty of Ultimate players, including some who weren’t born when these events occurred, have told me that this echoes their own ultimate conversions.

ULTIMATE GLORY

A Frisbee Memoir

 

What you gave me you gave whole

But as for telling

Me how to best use it

You weren’t a genius at that.

Twenties, my soul

Is yours for the asking

You know that, if you ever come back

 

“To My Twenties” by Kenneth Koch

 

We labor over our big decision and big dreams, but sometimes it’s the small things that change our lives forever.  What could be smaller than this: It is the first week of my freshman year of college and I, looking for a sport to play, am walking down to the boathouse for crew, resigning myself to four years of servitude as a galley slave, when I see a Frisbee flying across the street.  The Frisbee, tossed from one long-haired boy to another, looks like freedom to me.  Then I notice that there are several Frisbees flying back and forth between a band of young men, all wearing shorts, with cleats hanging over their shoulders.  At the time I am quite shy but, uncharacteristically, I cross the street and ask them where they are going.  To Ultimate Frisbee practice, it turns out, and I am going with them.     Continue reading →

Winter Solstice

categories: Cocktail Hour / Getting Outside / Our Best American Essays

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From my book Temple Stream [then as now, though the dogs are gone, and a new one in their place, pretty Baila, Elysia not only born since (her birth part of the narrative) but eleven years old!]:

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Winter Solstice

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Starting as early as October, but more likely November in a given year [and not till mid-December in 2011], Temple Stream begins to freeze.  Every day the ice changes, grows, shrinks back, advances.

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And every morning the dogs and I hiked down there to have a look, and hiked down again each evening, just to see what had changed.  Ice paved the way: the muddy parts of the path were thrown up in frost castles, delicate keeps and crenellations of dirt and ice that collapsed with a satisfying crunch underfoot.  The kingfisher was quietly gone, the mallard Continue reading →