Today, we watch hunter-gatherers turn into farmers.
The University of Houston's College of Engineering
presents this series about the machines that make
our civilization run, and the people whose
ingenuity created them.
I was 16 in Roseburg, Oregon
-- a town recently swollen from 2000 to 5000 people
by the wartime logging boom. I wore tough leather
boots and coiled a 100-foot surveyor's chain across
my chest. I carried a brush axe and a machete. We
staked out logging roads through the virgin Douglas
fir. Now and then axemen in the valley behind us
felled one of those 500-year-old trees, and the
crash thundered up the draw. We picked our way on
rotting logs, house-high, over rivulets and humus.
We laid a trail for bulldozers where no human had
Roseburg was a raw town. Our high school provided
most of its cultural life -- a band, plays,
football games. We all drove cars. The real
high-school hero was the guy who could get an old
model-A Ford, reshape its body, tune its engine,
and remove its muffler. Riding in the rodeo was
next-best on the social scale.
Now I'm back in Roseburg, 42 years later. I search
the eyes of old friends, trying to locate in the
adult the child I knew. Usually he's there,
surprisingly undamaged by a full lifetime.
But a profound change has touched the town. Now it
has its own museum and a community college. It has
shopping malls and good restaurants. One
cheerleader became a concert pianist -- another, an
author. Child brides have grown into productive and
fulfilled grandmothers. Cancer has claimed more
lives than it should have. We're left to wonder
which of our environmental offenses did that to so
Some logging fortunes blew away like summer smoke.
Others made the town into a civilized community.
Logs for the lumber mills are now trucked in from
forests a hundred miles away. The people talk about
replanting, and about the 20 to 50-year growth
cycles of trees. The town was built on lumber, and
its future is still in lumber. We tore up the
wilderness as children; but today the adults of
Roseburg are husbandmen of trees.
The same sort of transformation ran through the
whole dawn of human history, and here it happened
in one lifetime. I can still see the careless child
in these adults. The good humor remains; but
they've stopped thinking like children and become
citizens. They were only hewers of trees, but their
grandchildren will be settled lumber farmers.
I'm privileged to have known those primeval woods
-- the smell and texture of untouched forests. I'm
equally privileged to have seen my teenage friends
play out the great technological drama of our
I'm John Lienhard, at the University of Houston,
where we're interested in the way inventive minds