One Perfect Thing

by Bill McKibben


Always a bit disconcerting to find yourself part of a trend, but on a day when the most e-mailed story at the NYT is about older people getting rid of their clutter, Sue and I are…waiting for the delivery of a dumpster, so we can dispose of some of the detritus of 30 years of living on and off in the mountains of the Adirondacks. The sheer volume of useless junk that even a fairly resolute anti-materialist manages to acquire is staggering, and I can feel a weight lifting off me as it goes.

But it did get me thinking about the few possessions I truly love, and why. On my short list, most are built for use in the outdoors: my mountain bike, my cross-country racing skis, and near the very top of the list my solo canoe. It’s built by a neighbor, Pete Hornbeck, who has made a good living producing these small craft for decades. It’s light as a feather, sturdy, and stable even in a good chop–in other words, perfect for these Adirondack woods, where 3,000 ponds, streams and lakes are connected by short bushwhacking portages. You can plunk a backpack in the boat, paddle to the carry, and then sling the canoe over your shoulder like a handbag as you head off for the next body of water. And it’s no wonder it works so well: these are Kevlar (or carbon fiber if you’re rich) knockoffs of a classic wooden boat, the Wee Lassie, built for an early Adirondack guide and now enshrined in the boat room at the prize-winning regional museum.

My Hornbeck boat would itself be useless clutter in other parts of the country, and it got me wondering if other people had prize possessions, tuned to place and season, that warmed their hearts. Share yours by emailing And now back to the serious business of discarding.

(Photo: Hornbeck Boats)