More Than Meets the Eye

a more efficient fireplace

That sounds good, especially in these energy-conscious times and given our on-off relationship with spring this year.

a more efficient fireplace
a coffee percolator

What? Do we put the percolator on the efficient fireplace to heat up? A two-fer?

a more efficient fireplace
a coffee percolator
a highly nutritious soup of pearl barley and sour beer

Well, it’s not quite poetry of the calibre of “a loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and thou” but I guess it has a certain similar satisfying completeness to it. Even if you’re not crazy about pearl barley, as I am not. Or of any kind of beer, for that matter.

a more efficient fireplace
a coffee percolator
a highly nutritious soup of pearl barley and sour beer
thermal underwear

The theme of being warm seems inescapable. Is that what this is about?

a more efficient fireplace
a coffee percolator
a highly nutritious soup of pearl barley and sour beer
thermal underwear
Baked Alaska

All right then. Here we are, snuggled up beside our efficient fireplace in our thermal underwear: sipping coffee, spooning soup, and scoffing Baked Alaska. The scene is set. Does the story start now?

No. This list came to me this week in a Simon Winchester book — The Men Who United the States — in a throw-away footnote about an aside to the main thrust. The person referenced in connection with this list was an occasional youthful companion of the early American civil engineer Winchester was *really* writing about (which tells you what you need to know about the writing style and curious mind of Simon Winchester OBE). But never mind him: the civil engineer, I mean. For our purposes today, keep your eye on Benjamin Thompson.

Who? Benjamin Thompson: an American-born British inventor and polymath who acquired the title of Count Rumford while living in Bavaria.

A quick Wiki search reveals that Sir Thompson (knighted by King George III, counted by the Kaiser, I guess) also designed warships, reorganized the Bavarian army, and later had a crater on the Moon named after him. And, oh yeah, he was part of the 19th-century revolution in thermodynamics.

And the list? It’s the inventions that led to Thompson winning “lasting repute” per Winchester. With respect, I venture to suggest that his repute may have been in spite of the beer & barley soup rather than because of it.

Anyway. This is the sort of list — the sort of person — that makes me think about the relative smallness of my own life. Or, more charitably, its relatively singular focus: the organization and communication of written information. I mean, where on my resume is the created-soups-&-desserts section? The invented-equipment-&-tools citations? The letters of reference from happy clients for my redesigned-warships-&-bureaucracies services? Nowhere, that’s where.

Now, I seem to remember reading somewhere that the centuries preceding the 20th were great for polymaths: There being markedly less to know/master in most scientific disciplines, it was correspondingly more likely that someone so inclined and so endowed might become adept in many fields. Or maybe I made that up. But maybe they were times that better showcased those few among us who shine in many fields (soup excepted, in this case).

And maybe we all shine more broadly than we think. Leaving the level of accomplishment out of it, I myself have writing, photography, videography, knitting, soup-making, exercise, and gardening projects on the go at the moment. (Not much in the area of housecleaning, but there’s only so much time to go around.) Without any conscious intention of doing so, I notice birds, bridges, misspellings on signs/menus, accidental faces, and small children in public places. I like to read about history, technological development, ecology, and political theory. I love documentaries on railroads, mammoth engineering projects, country music, and baseball.

And so it is with all of us, I think. (Well, many people are more into housecleaning, but do try not to get bogged down in the details.) Outside work hours, accountants create gourmet meals, managers coach kids’ sport teams, correctional officers play in bands that scientists come to listen to, and civil servants game online. Artists romp through cryptic crosswords. Project managers retire and take up quilting. Photography. Painting. Blogging. Golf. Or all of the above.

Everyone we know, everyone we meet, is so much more than meets the eye.

 

This entry was posted in New Perspectives, Thinking Broadly, Through History and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to More Than Meets the Eye

  1. barbara carlson says:

    “Everyone we know, everyone we meet, is so much more than meets the eye.”

    It’s my greatest regret in these plague times, that I won’t be able to listen to the stories of strangers.

    And, BYT, you may not have a broad list of accomplishments, but you go deep into every one of them and I’ve enjoyed watching your progress, even your exercise vids.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Barbara – I believe you’ll get back to stranger-chatting, but agree it’s not a sure thing. And the lost chances are just lost. (Many thanks for the encouragement.)

  2. Dave Jobson says:

    I am frequently amazed by these latent talents that emerge later in life among us “older” folks. It seems once we have the time on our hands these interests just pop out like flowers in the spring. The seeds have lain dormant awaiting the right conditions etc. Our kids have no time or interest in whatever it is but if it keeps the old goat busy that’s enough I guess.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Dave – 🙂 And who knows what interest in our activities the next generation will take when it’s their turn to be old?

  3. Mike Saker says:

    Isabel,
    I noted your comment about liking “to read about history” and “technological development” and immediately thought of two books that I would recommend. The first is The PERFECTIONISTS – How Precision Engineers Created the Modern World, by Simon Winchester, a book that I suspect you may already have read given your lead-in reference in this item to the author. I found it particularly fascinating that I could relate personally and professionally during my naval engineering career to just about every technology that he discussed. He writes good yarns. The second, is a maritime history book by Samuel Eliot Morison, entitled The European Discovery of America: The Northern Voyages, AD. 500-1600; and The Southern Voyages, 1492-1616. I happened upon a copy for $3 at our Mahone Bay Centre’s annual used book sale. It is my first exposure to Morison who I have discovered is a very prolific and accomplished author (1887-1976). In his Preface to the book he draws an interesting comparison of the skill, daring and resources of these early sea-going explorers to that of the astronauts who first landed on the moon. “Their (astronauts’) feat might be slightly comparable to Cabot’s if the moon were always dark and they knew not exactly where to find it — and if they had hit the wrong planet”. His research covers many aspects of the technologies and techniques used by these early mariners. Very interesting.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Mike – 🙂 Based on your recommendation of The Perfectionists – which I have read and loved – I’ll definitely look for the second one, although I don’t suppose I’ll get it for 3 bucks. Marine navigation is amazing. For our trip to NZ we did some reading about the Polynesians who went *all over* the place in relatively tiny canoes, inferring the presence of land beyond the horizon from ocean currents and bits of drifting stuff. Among other ridiculous feats.

      • Mike Saker says:

        Try the libraries for Morison’s material. The book I have is a compilation and abridgement of the “most exciting episodes from the huge” North and South parent volumes that I infer more often are printed separately. I’ve only just started the North portion. It’s fascinating, with all sorts of references to original material — maps, logs, notes, crew accounts, etc. and the author’s opinions, if required.
        Oxford University Press, New York.
        ISBN 0-19-502314-5

        • Isabel Gibson says:

          Mike – Too late! It’s on order from Indigo – the abridged version, less often being more. Thanks again.

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