Monday, October 15, 2012

When New Gets Old

Steampunk search engine?
We made our annual trip to apple country (Adams County, PA) last weekend, specifically Hollabaugh Brothers Fruit, where you can dig into massive crates of apples that are refilled all day.  The new varieties like Honeycrisp and Nittany are too good -- I mean, just perfect.  Nothing wrong with the old ones either (except for the mass-market long-range shipping creation, the Red Delicious, which is the first but certainly not the second part of its name-- you won't find it here).
The cider makes me think a little while I'm enjoying a big cup of it and gazing out at the sturdy trees.  Still picked from ladders, still good for you just as they are without the ministrations of a multinational corporation...little round miracles.  An ancient once said you must respect the intelligence that a seed possesses.  Compared to the smart phone in your pocket, which can produce nothing, it is astonishing.

What things are best done in the old way?  What old objects and methods do you know that delight you?  A short while ago I had reason to use my 100-year-old jack plane to make a piece of pine fit.  It took three short sessions, and the paper-thin shavings piled up while the air filled with a fragrance as naturally perfect as the apple's.  I cleaned it off and put it away, on its side, not resting on the precious leading edge of the blade.  The handles are real Indian rosewood, the hardware solid brass.  It says "BAILEY" at the front, a name like many others respected back in the day and forgotten now.  There aren't many who could look at it and see that the blade is a "butcher weld" and that is why it cuts, when adjusted and sharpened correctly, better than anything made since.

We might rationally know what's best or just be emotionally attracted or attached to certain things.  We may be blinded by pride in our specialized knowledge or just by unexamined prejudices.  Feelin' ain't thinkin,' our Dr. Spock side might say; it is amusing to step outside ourselves and examine what we value and why.  A few iconoclasts still use straight or safety razors, can't abide automatic transmissions, or sport a fountain pen.  Some things have class above and beyond practicality; the mechanical watch or camera has history and shows great levels of artisanship.  They wrap function in beauty and can be repaired and used by subsequent generations, if those ideas warm something inside you.  Ansel Adams didn't need digital.

It took a long time for us to get rid of the dependable and inexpensive landline phone (because of unending spam calls), but the Asian-made instruments we've had for decades were all short-lived pieces of unrepairable junk.  You can call me over the hill, as Bob Seger sang, but the wall-mount rotary dial (OK, its pushbutton successor was good too) Western Electric model that graced most kitchens for decades was as good as telephones ever got.  Even if dropped on the floor, I never saw one in a home needing replacement or repair.  And if disaster or small children struck, you could get parts and rebuild them (I did that many times for an exhibit at the science museum that used two of them, and had no trouble restoring them fully). 

Except for the peer pressure, no one is actually stopping you from taking notes on paper with a wood pencil, holding and reading a real book, using paper maps, washing dishes with your hands, or cooking from scratch with real ingredients.  I read that LP records are being released in increasing quantities, but have never seen them for sale new.  Ironic -- you might have to order them online.  I don't miss checks or cassette tapes, but they were midpoint technologies; cash and LPs are solid old school.  And we miss our old Atari. 

I'm with you if you're thinking about slowing down to do some things the old way.  If you're driving by in a manual-shift car with crank windows, you'll warm one old but still servicable heart.


1 comment:

  1. Old school. Imagine if you are an artist without pencil and paper? And when the batteries die we might know how to go back to cursive writing. And when the hurricane blows out the power we can entertain ourselves with checkers or just watching the spiders weave.