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Karl Lindholm: A calm place in a world of flux – Bill McKibben and the Red Sox

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Posted on June 7, 2018 |
By Karl Lindholm



McKibben poor people campaign VTdigger_0527.jpg
UBIQUITOUS GLOBAL WARMING activist Bill McKibben often shows up at climate change rallies wearing the cap of his beloved Boston Red Sox. Here he is speaking at the Poor People’s Campaign protest at the statehouse on Monday. VTDigger photo/Elizabeth Gribkoff

Who’s that tall slender fellow in the Red Sox hat?

Why, it’s Bill McKibben of Ripton, the environmental activist and writer, back home after five weeks in Australia, New Zealand, Japan, the Pacific Islands, Canada and California, fighting coal mines and working for fossil fuel divestment.

Bill McKibben, baseball fan.

Next month, he’s off to the Vatican where he will deliver one of the keynote addresses at a conference marking the third anniversary of the Pope’s remarkable encyclical on global warming, “Laudato Si,” or “On the Care for Our Common Home.”

McKibben travels the world, near and far, with the purpose of saving it, and he has done so for some time, in earnest since the publication of his seminal book, “The End of Nature,” in 1989.

How does one with a mission and a message so truly global, cosmic, urgent, maintain equilibrium amid all the complications such a life involves and the formidable opposing forces encountered continually?

Baseball, it seems, helps.

“I love baseball,’ he says. “It’s not about highs and lows. My work is all about flux and change. We are going through the biggest change in our environment in 10,000 years of recorded history.

“Baseball is an unchanging constant in this world of change. It stays more or less the same.”

Bill grew up in Boston, so has always been a Red Sox fan. He remembers when he was in elementary school his dad pointing at the TV and saying, “That man (Carl Yastrzemski) is the best player on the planet.”

“So the sandwiches I took to school had to be made with Yaz Bread,” Bill says (Arnold Bread made “Big Yaz Special Fitness White Bread,” circa 1968).

Bill has had other favorites over the years: “Big Papi,” he says, “became part of my mental furniture.”

Of today’s players, his favorite is Jackie Bradley Jr. for his “elegant play. I like players who remind me of the continuity of the past. It’s like he stepped out a 1964 baseball card. He’s like Dom DiMaggio. I hope he hits.”

His all-time favorite Red Sox is not a player at all: “I’m a big Joe Castiglione fan,” he says with conviction. Castiglione is the radio Voice of the Red Sox, and has been for 35 years. “Every night, he brings a certain pleasant continuity. I like hearing him.”

Bill’s approach to the game today is decidedly old fashioned. He’s a throwback. He catches Red Sox games almost exclusively on the radio, like in the old days before saturated TV coverage when radio was just about all there was. 

Joe is latest in the line of Red Sox “Voices.” In my day, it was easy-going Curt Gowdy, practically a member of the family, always referred to by his first name.

Once each summer, Bill and his wife Sue Halpern, herself a wonderful writer, head “to the spiritual heart of New England (Fenway Park) for a few hours, and then wind our way across the ganglia back to Ripton.”

In this way, Bill says, “I have locked in what it all looks like,” so useful to him as he watches the game on the radio in the summer.

While Bill was not a baseball player himself growing up, he is an athlete, still. He’s a skier and continues to compete in the winter as a cross-country racer. His book “Long Distance” goes into his passion for training and competing in this endurance sport.

A “perfect year” for Bill would have only two seasons: early snow, arriving just after the end of baseball season, lasting until baseball’s Opening Day in the spring: baseball and skiing. “Thanks to Mike Hussey and his snowmaking at Rikert,” he says, “our ski season is really holding up.

“On skis through the woods,” he says, “I’m 13 minutes from Bread Loaf on a fast day.”

Bill confirmed his Ripton bona fides recently when he wrote a piece for The New York Times on the Ripton Country Store, up for sale after more than 42 years of dedicated ownership by Dick & Sue Collitt.

There had been very little movement for nearly a year, but Bill’s article produced over 50 potential buyers within days of its publication, and a deal was consummated.

Of Ripton, Bill wrote in the Times: “We’re a small place — 600 or so souls — on the spine of the Green Mountains in the center of the state, not far from Middlebury College.”

Bill and Sue have called that “small place” home since 2001.

They live in that place with another baseball-loving sage, at least in spirit, the Bard of Ripton, Robert Frost, who wrote: “When I was young, I was so interested in baseball that my family was afraid I’d waste my life and be a pitcher.”

In baseball, there’s no place like home. It is the destination of all those hardy travelers around the bases.

So consider the peripatetic Bill McKibben settled in at home, up there in Ripton, on a summer’s evening, amid the sounds of the night birds and peepers — and the Voice of the Red Sox, Joe Castiglione.

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