One Perfect Thing, Ctd

by Dish Staff

Inspired by Bill McKibben’s musings on his beloved solo canoe, readers share stories of their prized possessions:

sat-2apr-11-15 I’ll pony up one: my Dad’s old 6″ Criterion Dynascope telescope. He bought it shortly after I was born and took it out all through my childhood. About the time he moved out of the old house, he gave it to me.  It’s had 46 years of use – I’ve had to replace the focuser, rebuild the secondary mirror mount, and try to repair the clutch on the tracking drive. At the same time I also built a solar filter for it, as well as modified an old webcam to do low-level astrophotography (see right).

Technology has long since passed it by; these days you can get far lighter, easier-to-use scopes with computerized tracking, error-correcting drives and everything else. But the Dynascope is still optically sound, and if the astrophotos I’ve taken with it won’t compare to what you see in the back of Sky & Telescope, they’re mine. I’m hoping one of my kids will want it.


I’m sure I’ll not be the only one to say this, but the only truly prized possession I own (aside from my dog, which I don’t think counts) are my guitars. I’m a professional musician, but even if I weren’t, they’d be the only things that I own that I’d never want to part with.

The irony is that I’m quite sure someone else will e-mail about how he or she is finally cleaning out their storage unit and getting rid of the guitar they always thought they’d learn how to play. Your post immediately brought me back to this Onion classic: Local Self-Storage Facility A Museum Of Personal Failure. One of my all-time faves.


Mine is easy. It’s my sailboat. It’s not big, new, or fancy; it’s a 1981 Hunter 27-footer that cost as much, when I bought her 14 years ago, as a used Toyota. And yet, how she restores my soul; she’s perfect for sailing my home waters of the Chesapeake Bay and for cruising to the many towns and gunkholes (sheltered anchorages) that make it such a fascinating place.  And she’s been capable of much longer voyages. She’s built like a tank, can sleep two very comfortably (and up to five much less so).

I think that for most of we sailors, sailing fills an aesthetic need. It’s not the fastest or even the most practical way of getting from Point A to B (particularly if the wind is blowing from B). But with the gentle heel of the boat, the sound of wind and water (no engine noise when sailing), stimulating conversation or none at all as my companions nap in the gentle rhythm of the waves or when I sail alone; everything about sailing seems to make life feel a little deeper, vibrant, and more colorful.


At one time, while living in downtown DC, I owned six motorcycles. I regularly spent more on tools than suits and food (though my day job required ties and not oily jeans). While most thought my interest in motorcycles was absurd, I found it oddly liberating. Furiously bucking the “de-clutter” or “downsizing” trends, I loved every broken part, stripped bolt, and odd Craigslist purchase. I once defiantly started all six motorcycles at the same time, because I was proud I could make them all work.

Over the years I’ve learned that it’s not the stuff that burdens people, but our modern inability to take apart, understand, rewire, hack, solder, work on, fix, and ultimately enjoy the things we own. If I had to call an electrician for every switch or socket that didn’t work in our house or schedule auto repairs and have some teenager try and talk me into $80 windshield wipers, I’d be stressed about the stuff I own, too.


When I graduated high school, my parents let me choose my gift: a suit for interviewing, or a fly rod. I opted for the fly rod. Since then, that rod has gone with me from coast to coast, from salt flats in Florida to high mountain streams to my favorite place of all time, the Lamar Valley in Yellowstone National Park. Every time I pick up that rod, I feel the magic in it. It’s now imbued with the memories of all of the places I’ve been, the experiences I’ve had, and – especially – the friends I’ve fished with for the past 26 years.

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)