Ice Blocks and Irishmen

by Ryan

“Let a man step to the music which he hears, however measured.” – Henry David Thoreau

This quote is what you see most often when people discuss Thoreau. It’s the basic philosophy he uses throughout his life, trimmed down into a convenient high school yearbook quote for forward-thinking teens. But what most don’t realize is that the quote originally came from one of Thoreau’s journals, which in effect represent a much bigger part of Thoreau’s philosophy. He was a firm believer in the idea that everyone should keep a journal, and so to me the quote that matters more goes something like this:

Of all the strange and unaccountable things this journaling is the strangest. It will allow nothing to be predicted of it; its good is not good nor its bad bad.” – Thoreau, July 29, 1841

Most people have a hard time understanding just what I do here. In fact, that’s probably why I don’t bother telling most people just what all this is about. Let’s face it, the majority of people reading The Roost right now have never met me in real life. In the relative anonymity that blankets the internet, I am four letters and a minimal amount of bandwidth. A name. Zeroes and ones, open and closed switches.

dett4But there’s a lot more to it than that. Two and a half years of writing has established a bit of a backstory as to who I am and what this site is all about. Much like Walden’s journals, we started this site with a quote and a lot of questions, but over time the definition and purpose became much clearer.

In some ways I think this site is a lot like Walden Pond. I have the same three chairs that Thoreau describes in his work: “one for solitude, two for friendship, three for society.” Writing is a singular endeavor, reading an interpersonal relationship, but the medium it’s delivered through can literally reach a billion people.

What Thoreau did in Walden often gets misinterpreted by those that never give the work full consideration. He did not completely abandon society as much as take a step back from it. Thoreau did not become a hermit, and he did not hate technology. He liked riding trains and enjoyed visiting friends but Walden was his escape, the place where his ideas came to grow.

The more I think about it, that’s exactly what I do here. Where Walden truly embraced nature and described its every detail, we try doing the same with sports. Thoreau saw nature for its beauty (Spring) as well as its violence (the Battle of the Ants), describing it all in a way no one had ever attempted.

I certainly can’t make a claim that strong, but what I’ve tried to accomplish with this space is to fully examine sports in every detail. The beauty of gliding on ice, the violence of its collisions; there is something to appreciate everywhere you look and very slowly I’ve tried to write about just that. The biggest question I try to answer is simple: why do sports matter so much to so many people? We may never answer it completely, but it’s certainly worth a try.

elephants6-550x366We could try comparing The Roost to Walden all day, but the fact of the matter is that nothing we ever write here will compare to Thoreau’s genius. What this space truly represents is the emotional sanctuary Walden Pond held for Thoreau himself.

Believe it or not, this is the place I come to when things get too crazy. The month-by-month totals truly tell the tale: last fall was a pretty rough time in my life, and so I threw everything I had into writing here. I have no idea how I managed over 100 posts a month over that stretch; that seems impossible these days.

The site has changed a bit over time, and as I’ve grown busier those numbers have gone down a bit. Still, whenever things get hard I look forward to coming here to talk sports. I make time for The Roost in a period of my life where time is at a premium.

Truth is, I need this. To go somewhere and talk about hockey for a few hours, to sit down and escape in the story of a rookie like Tyler Myers or the climax of the baseball season is just what I need to give my life a bit of perspective. Sure things are rough right now, but sports will always be there for me. Baseball in the summer, hockey and football in the winter; these are the familiar friends I turn to when I’m about to forget why I do all this work in the first place.

This site, much like a lot of things in my life, started on a whim. Jon sent me a text message, I said yes, and we went from there. But that’s not the whole story, just the first part. Over the last two-plus years I’ve taken charge of a lot of things in my life, this site included. What started as an afterthought has become a huge part of my life, a part I don’t think I can part with anytime soon.

deer3-550x366It’s not perfect, but I don’t think it is supposed to be. It took Walden eight years of writing journal and two years in the woods to perfect Walden. Every day he put pen to paper in between making a life for himself, tending beans and fishing on the pond while capturing this thoughts each night. Through all that he was searching for something, both in himself and in the world around him. Eventually he found just that: his greatest accomplishment in one book.

I don’t keep a journal or a diary, but I do write here every day. And so perhaps this version of Walden serves that purpose: chronicling my life through sports. It’s not much of a stretch when you really think about it we attach so much meaning to these games that it really wouldn’t be out of line. Perhaps this is my own version of Thoreau’s journals; much less brilliant yet just as persistent. There’s rarely a day I make time to write here, no matter what the weather or how many beans there are to tend.

Out of Thoreau’s journals came one of the greatest American novels ever. This site may never spawn anything worth mentioning, but I feel it is just as important. Other men may be able to cut up and take what is accomplished here, moving to and fro for a variety of reasons. Still the ice we make here, the ice we skate on, can never be used for anything but that.

It’s personal and on an impersonal, technology-saturated medium. Oddly enough, I think Thoreau would have approved.


  1. Mark B

    Ryan, great post. Very thoughtful and personal.

  2. It’s nice to read such a thoughtful essay, Ryan. But that’s what we’ve come to expect from you.

    This site is certainly a gem, one of the few I check on a daily basis. There are few authors in this world that I read on a daily basis (which is certainly saying something, because I’m a fourth year graduate student and reading basically consumes my very existence). The quality of the work speaks for itself, but it’s nice to have you reflect on the process. Thanks for taking the time to share this with us. Keep writing/living deliberately, if you take my meaning…

  3. Someone who gets Thoreau and sports? That’s a heck of a blog post. Many people may not recognize the value Thoreau still offers us today. It’s easy to forget that some 19th century writers are still making flesh-and-blood differences in our lives today. I recently made my first-ever trip to Walden Pond and to the cemetery where Thoreau and found I wasn’t the only one whose life he still influences. I wrote about it on my blog and would be honored if you gave it a read and posted your thoughts:

    If write on Sunday, though, I may not see it until Monday. I do, after all, live for the Sunday Ticket on DirecTV!