[para 4:] To many, this last assertion is proof of his advanced eccentricity. But let’s give him his due: anyone who has climbed every one of New Hampshire’s 4,000-foot peaks, as the springy 69-year-old Souter reportedly has done, knows a kind of exhilaration that his black-robed colleagues in the tidal basin will never know.

How strange is it, really, to want another taste of the savage winds atop Mount Washington before the knees go bad?

tidal basin = n. A body of water in an area subject to tides whose water level is maintained at a desired level by artificial means.

Although I tried consulting a dictionary, I don't understand what is implied about the US Supreme Court?

  • I think you can take it quite literally: tidal basin refers not just to the body of water but also the land directly affected by it. It is typically pretty flat, so its inhabitants know little about climbing mountain peaks. I live in a country that is almost one big tidal basin and our highest "mountain" is around 1000 feet - and we have to share it with two neighbours. Most of the country considers a 100 foot elevation a "mountain". To answer: you can consider it a pars pro toto.
    – oerkelens
    Nov 6, 2014 at 14:31
  • Given the extract talks about having climbed every one of New Hampshire’s 4,000-foot peaks, it seems to me the author has just slipped up and written tidal basin when what he meant was river basin (the surrounding lowlands, where the physically less adventurous colleagues dwell in blissful ignorance of the kind of exhilaration potentially available to them up on the peaks). Nov 6, 2014 at 17:25

1 Answer 1


Tidal Basin is most likely a reference to Washington, D.C., in which it is a prominent geographic feature where the Jefferson Memorial is located. I'm not sure why they didn't capitalize it.

In any case, the mountains of NH are in rugged contrast with the flatlands of the DC area.

For what it's worth, I used to live in a town in NH adjoining the one Souter lived in; most of us were very proud of him. In particular he was unpretentious and in keeping with the local habits of not making a fuss and leaving neighbors to their own devices. Very unlike the typical high-ranked government official or politician.

  • I think the habit of not leaving people to their own devices is shared by many low-ranked local officials too. The desire to tell one's neighbors how to behave is part of America's Puritan heritage.
    – TimR
    Nov 6, 2014 at 14:48
  • 1
    Um, yes, that's an understatement, even in NH where the state motto is the taken-out-of-context Live Free Or Die.
    – Jason S
    Nov 6, 2014 at 14:52
  • 1
    It's a lazy reference, as the Supreme Court building isn't anywhere near the Tidal Basin— it's actually on Capitol Hill, which is not much of a hill by New Hampshire standards, but that would have served to underscore the contrast (his black-robed colleagues who have never climbed anything grander than Capitol Hill will never know).
    – choster
    Nov 6, 2014 at 15:28
  • Yeah, that's a much better one.
    – Jason S
    Nov 6, 2014 at 15:36
  • 2
    I think it works fine as a metaphor, actually: a tidal basin is a small, artificial environment; creatures can live and thrive in this small environment without being aware of, or affected by, anything that's going on in the surrounding area. If that doesn't sound exactly like politicians living in DC, I don't know what does. :-)
    – Hellion
    Nov 6, 2014 at 16:48

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