Saturday, October 6, 2018

Old wonders

I read this morning that when the railroad started being available in the US, one of many consequences was that citrus fruit from California could reach parts of the US in edible condition for the first time.  Imagine tasting a good ripe orange for the first time.

I try to keep in mind the two miracles of railroad and telegraph.  Today, they don't seem that miraculous, not compared to cars, jets, internet and smartphones.  But if you read "What Hath God Wrought?" by Daniel Walker Howe, you can get a good grip on the stunning miracle of traveling at unheard-of speeds for unheard-of distances carrying impossible amounts of goods along using a train.  You can get the idea of completely unbelievable business of being able to get the exact words you choose from one coast of North America to the other in less than one minute.

We hear quite a bit about the world changing these days.  The meanings of words change, the meanings of acts like marriage, retirement, and suicide, change.  The meaning of age changes, as more people live to advanced ages and do so while remaining in good, and even in vigorous, health. But it can be fun and eye-opening to try to recapture the wonder and amazement of previous new ways and changed possibilities.

We seem to think of communication and travel changes but don't forget about medical changes.  It is true that we still have trouble with certain conditions but it is undeniably amazing what modern medicines can do.  Take a look at "The Demon Under the Microscope" by Thomas Hager to move back for a minute to a time when a scratch could mean an unstoppable infection.  Things have changed in that area since I was born.

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