Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Zoom Out, A Life Lesson

 South Burlington, VT

We're visiting Jen again.  The past several day's weather makes it feel like late September.  This morning is a splendid day, clear, cold.   The valley fog in the picture below shows the view from the airport.  This weather puts me in a good mood and makes me wax philosophical.

The valley fog follows the Winooski River out through Exxex, and through the mountain pass visible on the horizon.   How do I know that?   It is because I know that rivers always do (and must) flow through gaps in the mountains.  In the valley, you can always find a river, highways, local roads, railroads, power lijnes, water/gas pipes, communications links, and lots of houses.  That is why river valley floods are so devastating.

I didn't always know that, because I hadn't thought about it.  I was taught to do that years ago by a young flight instructor, half my age.  We were flying one morning on a day like this.  We were on the other side of the lake near Plattsburg, NY, and ready to head back to Burlington.  The instructor then covered up all the instruments, and said, "OK Dick, how do you find your way back to BTV?"

Being a sailor, and knowing Burlington primarily as a port of call, I peered at the lake trying to locate Appletree point, and Shelburne Point.  I couldn't see them.   Exasperated at my failure, the instructor said, "DICK  Where is your head?  There are two huge mountains on the horizon and you know well that BTV lies between them."  Whoops, I failed because my attempt to concentrate made me zoom in rather than zoom out.

I believe that to be natural.  When people need to concentrate, they tend to focus in rather than out.  [I might be totally wrong to attribute this to all people.  Maybe it's only a minority of people.  Post a comment if you disagree.]   Sometimes, zooming in is the right thing to do, sometime it's better to focus out.

Reading the account of the explorations of Samuel de Champlain, I learned that he was told by the natives that the area of Vermont shown in the above picture was mostly unpopulated. Imagine yourself a lone pioneer lost in that wilderness.  You need to find fresh water to survive. (Never mind that fresh water is plentiful in Vermont.  I'm just trying to make a point.)   You would need to be accustomed to zooming out to be aware of your environment.  The gap in the mountains is visible from up to 100 miles away, and you know that heading for that gap is guaranteed to lead you to a river.   My point is that the primitive man did not need science, or high intelligence to survive, but he did need the ability to zoom out and appreciate the big picture.

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