without Ships, Editor
Tree Surgeons without Morals
and Engineers without Trains
Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi, he recalls that his training as a pilot
demanded his memorization of every landmark, sandbar and snag on the more than
1,000 mile route from Cairo, Illinois to New Orleans. To compound things, he had
to mentally record the entire trip (both up and down the river) in daylight, moonlight
and in total darkness. It was a little like being both Fred Astaire and
While honing his craft, Twain’s appreciation of the natural
beauty of the river was diminished in direct proportion to his lessons. What had
been seen as picturesque was now seen as a potential threat. The luxury of appreciating
the wind’s play on water was suddenly reduced to calculating risk and seeing the
signs that might jeopardize a cargo worth a quarter of a million dollars and/
or the lives of hundreds of passengers.
Vicksburg and Greenville Packet
Floodwall Mural in Vicksburg
abandoned his career early enough to retain his appreciation of the river. He
then applied his acute powers of observation to writing and we should be thankful
that we gained a world-class author/ philosopher and not just an exceptional riverboat
At the end of his lament, Twain philosophizes about doctors. Does
their profession make them see the blush on a young woman’s cheek as a
symptom of an underlying disease?
As Twain puts it: “Are not all her visible
charms sown thick with what are to him the signs and symbols of hidden decay?
Does he ever see her beauty at all, or doesn’t he simply view her professionally,
and comment upon her unwholesome condition all to himself? And doesn’t he sometimes
wonder whether he has gained most or lost most by learning his trade.”
Doctors immune to Beauty?
once knew a tree surgeon – a man who would happily return from giving an estimate
for a tree’s removal if he managed to convince the owner the tree posed no threat.
His un-businesslike approach to his work seriously affected his cash flow. When
a sawmill opened nearby, the going rate for raw timber threw him a lifeline. He
actually started making money from the “patients” he justifiably removed. Soon
he found himself estimating the board feet of lumber contained in a trunk – even
calculating the value of healthy trees. He did manage, however, to maintain his
senses and ignore temptation.
He lost his business but he informs us (we
remain very close friends) his appreciation of trees has returned. Stronger, perhaps,
was our recent pleasure to tour a few old houses with a retired Professor of Industrial
Arts (and a talented craftsman / carpenter). Rather than being a critic, his observations
were lavish with praise and it seemed that every few moments he was pointing out
some detail that the craftsmen had included – even though they could’ve gotten
by with less work. We think it was something that was once called pride.
It may not be a good idea to dine out with a food critic (can
they enjoy their food more than you do yours?) and it would be prudent to apply
the old advice of “never ask a barber if you need a haircut” to surgeons. On the
other hand, it’s better to not have a romantic surgeon who wants to be “creative.”
It has been said that “To a man with a hammer – everything may appear to be a
nail.” (But have you ever been around a man with a new can of WD-40?). And while
our needle is stuck in the groove of dispensing advice of dubious application,
we’d like to add this: “Never, under any circumstances, play cards with a man
So, arise, laypeople of the world and know that you have that
precious gift of blissful ignorance. In fact, some of us are more blessed than
others. If you appreciate something, keep your distance and it’ll remain a joy.
But bliss, like just about everything, works best in moderation. It’s good to
remain ignorant, but not in a bountiful way.
Minutes of Separation" -
September 24, 2009 Column
Copyright John Troesser