My book club recently read Tales of the Mountain Men, a collection of excerpts about mountain men, edited by Lamar Underwood. While it has interesting stories, each segment ended right when it got interesting. It felt like I paid Underwood 12 dollars to advertise other authors’ books. So as a book, it gets like 5/10 or even less. But the experience of reading the excerpts was pretty good. It would be a great book to get from a library. Two of the paragraphs were so good, that I’ll reproduce them here with some comments.
Excerpt from Across the Wide Missouri by Bernard Devoto quoted in Tales of the Mountain Men:
Skill develops from controlled, corrected repetitions of an act for which one has some knack. Skill is a product of experience and criticism and intelligence. Analysis cannot much transcend those truisms. Between the amateur and the professional, between the duffer and the expert, between the novice and the veteran there is a difference not only in degree but in kind. The skillful man is, within the function of his skill, a different integration, a different nervous and muscular and psychological organization. He has specialized responses of great intricacy. His associative faculties have patterns of screening, acceptance and rejection, analysis and sifting, evaluation and selective adjustment much too complex for conscious direction. Yet as the pat. terns of appraisal and adjustment exert their automatic and perhaps metabolic energy, they are accompanied by a conscious process fully as complex. A tennis player or a watchmaker or an airplane pilot is an automatism but he is also criticism and wisdom…It is hardly too much to say that a mountain man’s life was skill. He not only worked in the wilderness, he also lived there and he did so from sun to sun by the exercise of total skill. It was probably as intricate a skill as any ever developed by any way of working or living anywhere.
This is one of the best paragraphs and a half I’ve read on habit acquisition. A neurosurgeon friend of mind said that it would be worth reading daily for anybody in a profession requiring highly developed habits, he know this because he knows the brain and because he said, “It perfectly describes neurosurgery.”
Excerpt from The Big Sky by A.B. Guthrie quoted in Tales of the Mountain Men:
When they were going again his thoughts went back. As a man got older he felt different about things in other ways. He liked rendezvous still and to see the hills and travel the streams and all, but half the pleasure was in the remembering mind. A place didn’t stand alone after a man had been there once. It stood along with the times he had had, with the thoughts he had thought, with the men he had played and fought and drunk with, so when he got there again he was always asking whatever became of so-and-so, asking if the others minded a certain time. It stood with the young him and the former feelings. A river wasn’t the same once a man had camped by it. The tree he saw again wasn’t the same tree if he had only so much as pissed against it. There was the first time and the place alone, and afterwards there was the place and the time and the man he used to be, all mixed up, one with the other.
It’s funny how going to a place brings you back to the best memories you had there and the sorrow connected to the fact that those times have passed you by. From a Platonic point of view, it’s a good bit of evidence for the hereafter. If our consciousness is shaped by the form of consciousness, then the best we long for in each place, which shapes our consciousness of everywhere we revisit, is actually a picture of how that place ought to be or will be in some unspecified future. It was a thought-provoking paragraph for sure.