The next statue in our history tour, is of the indomitable P. Eckel.
Now largely forgotten — but in the final decades of the 19th century, he was known to every resident of this city.
A quintessential Victorian reformer, and, I am obliged to point out, a figure attracting considerable controversy.
Had he remained satisfied with his campaign to create a dog park in every neighborhood, he would, to a certainty, be better represented in the annals of American history.
His inaugural Canine Green (1876) was opened with considerable fanfare, and proved an instant success. As reported in the Post:
“Dog fanciers, sportsmen, and courting couples have flocked to the park. The upper crust rubs elbows with the humbler sort, those who must toil to earn their daily crust, and the Social Register’s pureblood hounds mix in perfect cordiality and democracy with their less-distinguished mongrel cousins…”
Based on its popularity, Eckel was appointed the city’s first Dog Warden — considered a rising political star, being groomed to run for mayor.
Eckel believed there were no bad dogs, only dogs hadn’t been properly instructed on the proper locations to relieve themselves. His philosophy was embraced by adherents of the Aesthetic Movement, the Domestic Animal Welfare Reform societies, and all those grounded in the essential Victorian faith in Doing Your Business.
But his single-minded resolve to place his Patented Canine Sanitary Stanchions, on every street corner, without the blessing of the city council, cost him his job, and extinguished his dog park crusade.
Careful study of the Sanitary Stanchions (seen surrounding his statue in the picture above) reveals to the observant, one of the issues with his invention.
Because they so closely resembled hydrants, the fire brigades were constantly attempting to hook hoses to them.
When, as the result of this confusion, the city morgue burned to the ground, with tremendous loss of bodies, if not lives, the city fathers had had enough, and his political opponents unleashed their resentment.
Eckel, who only wanted to provide hygienic relief, was relieved of his position. Hounded from office, and every one of his stanchions was dismantled and destroyed.
But P. Eckel was not someone to roll over for a pack of ward heelers, or sit idle, or take this lying down.
In his self-designed uniform, he continued to stride along the thoroughfares, up the town and down, six days a week, shouting through his speaking trumpet at miscreant curs befouling the footpath, and sometimes their dogs, too, but sadly, without the authority to collar wrong-doers.
Reading through his voluminous papers, laid down in the archives of the Eastminster Kennel Club, he comes across as well-meaning, but somewhat monomaniacal.
It’s sad to see this forgotten figure, in a park that no longer allows dog-walking.
Carved in stone, his features weathered by a century of rain, he stands forgotten, passed like water through our collective memory.
You know when you’ve reached the point of post-Thanksgiving saturation.
Walking near a beaver pond, and seeing turkey noodle soup.
And what looks like one stray cranberry.
Yesterday we walked by plantations of white pines and spruce, remnants of old apple orchards, lovely red sugar maples, beeches, hornbeams, and hophornbeams.
Those last two trees are pictured above.
Of the two, I prefer the hophornbeam.
I mean, who wants a hornbeam that just sits there?
I find it’s true that Nature abhors a vacuum – –
ambling along, pretty much totally vacant of thought,
so Nature provided a little wake-up call – –
two ruffed grouse, alway wiseguys, suddenly shot up,
like whirring rockets.
I’ve never gotten a picture of a grouse,
just a few minor heart attacks,
when they suddenly blast off,
three feet in front of my face.
We’d gone into a stretch of hemlocks, where it’s always a bit darker,
and getting along toward sundown,
so we’d decided to head back, while we could still see the trail.
But first we walked just a bit down the hill,
to listen to the creek,
and look at the tiny waterfalls.
And found a shrine-like assemblage of pebbles on the bank.
Little heart-shaped stones were tucked every which way into crevices.
I know, damn hippies.
This won’t gladden the hearts of most hikers I know,
who are fundamentally opposed to leaving any alteration or trace of human activity in the woods.
And humans being humans, they kinda overdid things,
maybe just a tad,
so it ended up looking like a Neolithic dump,
just after Valentine’s Day in the Stone Age.
But there were no beer cans, cigarette butts, or shell casings,
and to be honest,
I kind of got a kick out of this particular little display of weirdness.
We’d been walking along the shore of Lake Ontario,and stopped to watch the sailboats and drink some water.
A very nice lady saw us fooling with these rocks, and asked if we were professional artists, and if she could photograph our “stone stacking.”
It almost seemed like she was serious, so I told her, we artists prefer our creations to be called “Cobble Assemblages”. And that we’re novices, from the Spiral Jetty School, working our way up to pyramids and standing stone circles.
No money is required to view them, but an offering of fresh fruit is appreciated.
We’ve run across them in stream beds, woods, parks, even on the berms near shopping malls.
Sometimes there are so many, it appears a Neolithic cult is out there in the woods.
What is the point of this? I’ve heard a lot of people take this pretty seriously, saying “it’s kind of a Zen thing,” finding the center of gravity of these eccentric objects, and easing you into a contemplative state.
OK. Sure, you bet.
That sounds “a bit much,” New Age nonsense, and the funny thing is, I think they’re kind of right.
This balancing act takes focus, maybe even discipline.
I’m thinking, as we gravely heft the rocks and find the center of gravity, it’s kind of like politics.
Whether a box of rocks, or the electorate, or that portion of the electorate that resembles a box of rocks, it takes an artist to find the center, to balance every component, including the unstable and unbalanced. This is rock stacking, kids, not mud slinging, not casting stones.
When you do this stacking thing, you don’t select only perfectly flat rocks, where’s the challenge in that?
To be a sportin’ proposition, you have to take ’em as you find ’em.
That’s not to say, that sometimes, you get frustrated, it’s just not working, and you just chunk it back into the water, to get a few rough edges knocked off, or it can swim back to Canada, and wait for the next glacier to bring it south again, a bit more polished.
Politics is also supposed to somehow build things, using all of us lumpy, uncooperative, odd people, being gathered together to build something, say, a city on the hill.
My sister sings while she gathers stones, and the music reminds me of an old metaphor used in politics — the “bandwagon,” and I’ve always liked that image – – a big, brassy, hurly-burly, rock ‘n’roll hell-on-wheels.
Like taking a bunch of kids on a car trip – – just an unholy load of mischief, loud and unruly. Off-tune singing in the back seat, a bit smelly from sunblock and bug repellent, missed turns, negotiating over radio stations, seating assignments, fast food stops, arguments and sharp elbows.
But after an eternity or two, you do get to the beach, and everybody pitches in to build some beautiful sandcastles, or, in our rocky part of the world, a cool stone stack.
Bandwagon or stone stack, it has to find a place for everybody — leaning left, leaning right, centrist, positive, negative, neutral.
Doesn’t that sound kind of fun? “Come on, blow your own horn if you must, but everybody up on the bandwagon.”
(And in the case of many politicians, we can add “Stay on the wagon!”)
It has to be a big ol’ wagon.
Not a buggy of the extreme and the angry.
The surly with the lunatic fringe on top.
~ ~ ~
We had a huge old car once, that kept turning over, even after it was switched off, mindlessly “dieseling,” kind of like it had a coughing jag, and couldn’t stop.
Like a lot of folks, I find it can be surprisingly hard to shut your thoughts off, like that old car, definitely not firing on all cylinders, but just spluttering along.
Like some of our public figures, the car was too greasy, too much carbon buildup, too much hot gas coming out the back end.
Missing filters, endless idling, running on and on, throwing a smoke screen, leaking oil into the ground water. Chugging along, backfiring out half-digested dinosaur crap.
Our system right now, it appears some wiseguy snuck in, and switched the spark plug wires around, firing all out of order.
Like taking a Cadillac, all rose-tinted glass and a plush ride, in for a tuneup, to a shady shadetree mechanic.
And that bad grease monkey fast-talks us into trading for a rusted-out Gremlin, with no muffler, twisted axis, sorry, I mean, axle, and bad tie rods, so it keeps swerving to the right, and into the gutter.
~ ~ ~
Stone stacking helps us relax. You focus and forget about squabbles and arguments.
And when you don’t focus, you drop a rock on your toe, which sure takes your mind off less pressing concerns.
Like politicking, we’re just childishly happy to shut down any higher brain functions, and see Just How High Can We Pile It, before it all falls over.
~ ~ ~ ~
Meanwhile… we were On The Beach.
The lake shore we’re hiking along is a shingle — tons of piled-up pebbles, so we weren’t prying stones out of the ground and contributing to erosion, or disturbing a stream bed, etc.
Sometimes it’s fun to poke at a few things with a stick, and see what crawls out from under a rock, but we’ve had quite enough of that lately.
A key thing with these stone stacks: they’re not cairns, memorials, or markers, so take them apart when you’re done. Some of the ones we’ve seen, are big enough, they seem like a survivalist’s deadfall trap for little kids.
It falls under the “Leave No Trace” law of the woods.
Leave no stone un-returned.
And for heaven’s sake let’s get some bright new spark plugs and a tuneup for that heap.
We’ve had plenty of rain in Upstate New York this summer, so the countryside is lush and green.
A steady stream of storms hanging over our heads. A summer flooded with talk of swollen swamps, mushrooms and clouds.
And now, talk of mushroom clouds.
The sound of running water fills the damp woods, and I’ve been taking photos of pretty rivulets, graced with ferns and arching tree limbs.
But yesterday, while listening to the news about Korea, I saw this shot, of black shale in an unnamed stream, and it suited my mood.
A geology website informs us that this little waterfall runs through a “dissected plateau” – – layers of shale, sandstone, and limestone.
“Dissect” always has an unpleasant connotation to me, of high school biology class.
Personally, I like my frogs live and hopping.
The rocks are dull-colored and lifeless-looking, but if you pry open some of the layers, they’re teaming with fossils.
The ancient creatures embedded in the rock, probably thought things were going ok, and went about their business, but in some layers, the density of their remains, speaks of mass die-offs.
These were lower lifeforms, I guess they never saw it coming.
Sounding a bit downbeat! So what to do?
I suggest…go take a walk. Enjoy the green woods and the sound of waterfalls.
One of my favorite presidents, Harry Truman, used to walk two miles every day.
Following his walk, he then had one shot of bourbon.
If you feel an affection or need for clubs, ok, do your walking on a golf course.
Harry did not play golf. He just took a brisk little hike, and shook hands with people he met.
He used an old-fashioned word to describe his walk: his morning “constitutional”.
These are clearly winning concepts: Take a walk. Take a drink. Shake hands. Constitutional.
I don’t think there’s too many people, after more than sixty years, who care deeply about MacArthur’s dismissal. If you’re not a student of history, MacArthur was our top general, when we were fighting in Korea. Truman decided he’d gotten too big for his britches, and we couldn’t have a military leader who was arrogant, contemptuous, disrespectful and reckless. Korea was a bad place to be reckless.
And Harry sent him walking.