Trapper, early twentieth century. Library of Congress
The thermometer here has been hovering in single digits and New York City recorded wind-chill temps below zero. In Saranac Lake, where I spend time during the summer, wind chills yesterday dropped to around -40. Times like these, I think of a delightful little volume written by a nineteenth-century fur trapper from northern Canada. Martin Hunter's Canadian Wilds is available to read on Google Books, if you want to get a fire going in the living room and do a little browsing on your tablet. His book is full of old-fashioned lore about staying alive in difficult conditions. Here is some advice from Chapter 16, "Things to Avoid:"
Jack London's tyro in "To Build a Fire" would not have come to grief if he had followed Hunter's advice that "a proper partner is necessary" while traveling in the wilds, "for safety, successful hunting, and division of the many necessary labors, when the hunting or trapping day is over." Hunter reels off a list of possible disasters with fatal consequence, not least the risk of getting caught in your own animal traps. "I have known two men to lose their lives in a most horrible way of torture and agony, and these men were not novices at the business," he notes. One was middle-aged and "born and brought up to trapping, and the other was an old Nova Scotian who had trapped and hunted for forty years and yet he died in a bear trap." Hunter recounted one of his own near-misses when traveling alone in winter:
Despite such sage wisdom, Hunter was not without his crotchets:
So go ahead: throw another log on the fire and cozy up with this book until the cold wave snaps. You will feel even better if you line your head up with True North!
Trump continues to take us into uncharted territory. But the latest bombshells, relating to the FBI's secret counterintellligence investigation into whether Trump was an agent working in the Russian interest, are often mischaracterized, sometimes intentionally. Jeanine Pirro of Fox News asked the president, with a bit of a smirk on her face, if he had ever "worked" for the Russians. To her, the answer seemed beyond obvious. Trump a spy for the Russians? Ridiculous. In one sense, she was right.
The proper question is not whether Trump "worked" for the Russians as an agent within some formal arrangement; it's whether he was a Russian asset—someone over whom the Russians have been able to exert hidden influence. As one commentator put it, Trump is too undisciplined, impulsive and irrational for the Russians ever to even consider trusting him as a spy. But those same qualities, along with greed and a disdain for ethics and the law, make him a perfect candidate for a Russian asset. Over the past decades, he has surely provided them with plenty of kompromat.
Carl Bernstein, of Watergate fame, put the issue with waspish clarity. All the public evidence points to Trump being a Russian asset. The question is, is he participating wittingly, unwittingly or half-wittingly?
Donald Trump continues to drag us farther into uncharted waters and unplumbed swamps—threatening the Democrats if they do not accede to his demands to build a wall across our southern border and threatening fellow Republicans if they dare to break ranks with him. Fortunately, Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, has jumped in to guide us with a timely history lesson. As the New York Times reported, Cornyn "said Mr. Trump had made the case that Republicans had a much better chance of prevailing if they remained united in opposition to spending bills to get the government funded again."
“What did Benjamin Franklin say at the constitutional convention?” Mr. Cornyn told reporters. “We need to hang together or we’ll hang separately. That’s what it reminded me of.” The aphorism is clearly a favorite of the senator's; he has quoted it before, in urging Republicans to pass "POTUS's legislative agenda."
Unfortunately, Cornyn needs his own history lesson. Franklin said no such thing at the constitutional convention. He is alleged to have said something along these lines when the Declaration of Independence was signed at the Second Continental Congress, thirteen years earlier. After John Hancock put pen to paper signing his own flashy John Hancock, he is said to have exhorted others: "We must be unanimous; there must be no pulling different ways; we must all hang together." To which Franklin replied, "Yes, we must indeed all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately."
I add the qualifiers--allegedly, supposedly—because we don't have strong authority for the anecdote. Franklin's earliest biographers made no mention of it, including Parson Weems, who always plucked down a good yarn whether it was true or not. Only in 1840 does Jared Sparks record this bit of dialogue, sixty-four years after the event.
But even assuming the tale is true, it doesn't suit Cornyn's purpose very well. At the birth of the young republic in 1776, both Hancock and Franklin were urging members of Congress to put aside their differences and "hang together" as a united people. Cornyn is telling Republicans to "hang together" so they do not unite with Democratic members of Congress. He is putting party unity above national unity and conciliation.
With this kind of advice in the face of the chaos being sown during the continuing shutdown, we are all much more likely to hang separately.
James West Davidson
Occasional thoughts on history, teaching, paddling and the outdoors