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By Joe Fjelstad
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Flexible Thinking: The Calf Path—Redux
Regular readers might recognize that I have been writing for I-Connect007 since its inception and prior to that wrote for CircuiTree Magazine, which is its direct lineage ancestor founded in the 1980s. The staff has always been tolerant of my sometimes-off-the-wall digressions from the strictly technical commentaries to provide a different perspective, to hopefully make the technical a bit more understandable and appreciated.
I am taking liberty here to do so once again and repeat the presentation of a delightful poem shared with readers many years ago. The poem was written by Sam Walter Foss, a late 19th to early 20th century New Hampshire librarian and poet with great ability to bestow life lessons with humor, humanity, and humility. One such poem is “The Calf Path.”
When I first read the poem many decades ago, it immediately struck me with its simple yet profound wisdom, which I trust the reader will appreciate as well. Since that fortunate discovery, the poem has often informed my conscious thinking (and unconscious thoughts as well, I am sure) especially when it comes to inventions and inventing. We are all creatures of habit and convention. Habits can be good things, making life more predictable and easier to navigate. However, our habits can also blind us, constrain our thinking, cause us to miss opportunities, and even lead us astray. It is important to look up and look around from time to time to make sure we are not missing out because of our habits, which should be tested every so often.
Without further comment, I invite the reader to read, enjoy, and hopefully remember “The Calf Path” and its timeless message.
The Calf Path
A Poem by Sam Walter Foss
One day through the primeval wood
A calf walked home as good calves should;
But made a trail all bent askew,
A crooked trail as all calves do.
Since then three hundred years have fled,
And I infer the calf is dead.
But still he left behind his trail,
And thereby hangs my moral tale.
The trail was taken up next day,
By a lone dog that passed that way;
And then a wise bell-weather sheep
Pursued the trail o'er vale and steep,
And drew the flock behind him, too,
As good bell-weathers always do.
And from that day, o'er hill and glade,
Through those old woods a path was made.
And many men wound in and out,
And dodged, and turned, and bent about,
And uttered words of righteous wrath,
Because 'twas such a crooked path;
But still they followed—do not laugh—
The first migrations of that calf,
And through this winding wood-way stalked
Because he wobbled when he walked.
This forest path became a lane,
that bent and turned and turned again;
This crooked lane became a road,
Where many a poor horse with his load
Toiled on beneath the burning sun,
And traveled some three miles in one.
And thus a century and a half
They trod the footsteps of that calf.
The years passed on in swiftness fleet,
The road became a village street;
And this, before men were aware,
A city's crowded thoroughfare.
And soon the central street was this
Of a renowned metropolis;
And men two centuries and a half,
Trod in the footsteps of that calf.
Each day a hundred thousand rout
Followed the zigzag calf about
And o'er his crooked journey went
The traffic of a continent.
A hundred thousand men were led,
By one calf near three centuries dead.
They followed still his crooked way,
And lost one hundred years a day;
For thus such reverence is lent,
To well established precedent.
A moral lesson this might teach
Were I ordained and called to preach;
For men are prone to go it blind
Along the calf-paths of the mind,
And work away from sun to sun,
To do what other men have done.
They follow in the beaten track,
And out and in, and forth and back,
And still their devious course pursue,
To keep the path that others do.
They keep the path a sacred groove,
Along which all their lives they move.
But how the wise old wood gods laugh,
Who saw the first primeval calf.
Ah, many things this tale might teach—
But I am not ordained to preach.
This column originally appeared in the July 2021 issue of Design007 Magazine.
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Flexible Thinking: Stretching Conductors—and Design Possibilities
Flexible Thinking: The Adjacent Possible
Flexible Thinking: Catalyzing Change and Design Evolution
Flexible Thinking: Tribal Knowledge—A Personal Perspective
Flexible Thinking: A Once and Future Idea