Posts Tagged 'Sputnik'

The Fox at the Door

“One of the most time consuming things to have is an enemy.”

I plucked this plainspoken truth from E. B. White’s “A Report in January,” posted from his Maine farm on January 30, 1958.

EBW’s immediate enemy was the fox terrorizing his hens. Even as he types,
he is on the watch, a loaded shotgun at the ready.

He wants to destroy my form of society–a society of free geese, of Bantams unconfined. So I react in the natural way, building up my defenses, improving my weapons and my aim, spending more and more time on the problems of supremacy….When I realize what a vast amount of time the world would have for useful and sensible tasks if each country could take its mind off ‘the enemy,’ I am appalled.

EBW’s marauding fox was, of course, the least of the “red” enemies in the Cold War era. Earlier that month the Evil Empire’s eye in the sky, Sputnik 1, had tumbled from its orbit, and the day after this essay was posted, the U.S. would launch its own entrant in the Space Race (Explorer 1). With the threat of spy satellites and long-range nuclear missiles, neither Superpower could afford to take its mind off the enemy. Time consuming (and costly), indeed, to have an enemy. Then, as now.
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Striking the Stage-Set of a Life

In 1957, E. B. and Katharine White left Manhattan to live year-round on their farm in Maine. In Good-bye to Forty-Eighth Street, EBW wryly compares the process of packing to:

“…trying to persuade hundreds of inanimate objects to disperse and leave me alone. It is not a simple matter. I am impressed by the reluctance of one’s worldly possessions to go out into the world again. I kept hoping that some morning, as if by magic, all…would drain away from around my feet, like the outgoing tide, leaving me standing silent on a bare beach.

He later returns to the tidal image, observing with resignation:

It is not possible to keep abreast of the normal tides of acquisition. A home is like a reservoir equipped with a check valve: the valve permits influx but prevents outflow.

Particularly challenging is the disposal of awards and trophies, which he calls “leeches.” His trademark wit is at its sharpest here:

…I sat for a while staring at a plaque that had entered my life largely as a result of some company’s zest for self-promotion. It was bronze on walnut, heavy enough to make an anchor for a rowboat, but I didn’t need a rowboat anchor, and this thing had my name on it. By deft work with a screwdriver, I finally succeeded in prying the nameplate off; I pocketed this, and carried the mutilated remains to the corner, where the wire basket waited. The work exhausted me more than the labor for which the award was presented.

I imagine that the nameplate was later disposed of Sopranos-style in a New Jersey dumpster where no trash-picker would make the connection.
Continue reading ‘Striking the Stage-Set of a Life’


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