January 31, 2023

The Cutting Edge

What does it mean to be on the “cutting edge?”

We hear of XYZ Computer Company being on the “cutting edge” of technology. Any high tech company worth its salt claims to be on the “cutting edge” of communication or medical treatment or fashion or pasta production or whatever. BUT the cutting edge is a risky place to be. Think about the implications. You have to keep moving to be effective. You’re doing things nobody has done before so you have no idea what you’re going to run into. Chances are, when you do run into something, it will nick you, blunt you or break you.

Perhaps this concept of risk can best be explained with a real-life example. Let me once again call upon my Daddy – who, you no doubt will remember, was a Mountain Man through and through – to provide an example of life on the “cutting edge.”

Daddy had always been fascinated with flight. As a young boy he watched birds soar high above his mountain shack riding the thermals, gliding for hours with only an occasional flap of their wings. “If only I could do that!” he mused. “Then I, too, could soar around the skies well out of the range of the neighbor’s shotguns. Just think how much fun I could have. I could bomb their cabins with rotten pumpkins. I could swoop down and scare their children and dogs. I could fly ahead and warn the deer and other game when they were hunting so they’d starve, or be reduced to eating grubs and berries. WOW! This could be neat!” Daddy was thus inspired to undertake a quest – to someday, somehow learn how to FLY.

Daddy did what kids have done over the ages. “Birds can fly because they have wings,” he thought. “If I had me some wings, I could fly, too!” He strapped a couple of oak boards onto his arms and jumped off the barn roof…This resulted in what Daddy came to call his “First Period of Recovery,” during which he had a lot of time to figure out what had gone wrong. Daddy proved that in-depth analysis was not his strong suit when he repeated his flying experiment after having glued feathers to the boards.

During his “Second Period of Recovery,” he concluded that he’d messed up by using chicken feathers. As chickens were lousy fliers, how could he possibly succeed? He needed better feathers.

During his “Third Period of Recovery,” he was faced with the dilemma of either concluding turkey buzzards were lousy fliers or having to redirect his efforts. By now Daddy was somewhat older and more aware of the world’s resources. He decided learning to fly could made easier by the details of a phrase then in vogue, “Let’s get high!” His next several years were spent smoking strange things, in haling strange things and swallowing strange things.

While this period provided raw material for many screaming, sweating nightmares, it brought him no closer to his original goal of flight. One day while Daddy was out in the holler cooking a batch of his Pure Mountain Spring Water, he happened to look up to see a vision that launched his next round of flight research. There, floating gently through the cloud-dotted sky was a huge gray cigar-like shaped object. Tall letters on its side spelled out GOODYEAR.

“Good thing that puppy don’t say FIRESTONE,” he thought. “It’d probably crash and burn!” (Daddy was, in some ways, ahead of his time.)

Anyway, he again dove into his flying quest with all the enthusiasm of a redneck searching through the empties for a winning lottery ticket. Daddy became an expert on gasses. He harvested his hydrogen bushes daily. He crashed kids’ birthday parties just to steal their helium balloons. He scoured the swamps for methane, then supplemented his stockpile by eating beans three times a day. He tried to distill nitrogen from bulk fertilizer. He repeatedly called 911, hoping he could talk the paramedics out of some oxygen. He went through ‘em all – argon, neon, propane, carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, acetylene, etc., etc.

I wish I could tell you Daddy finally blazed new trails on the cutting edge of aviation. Unfortunately the only blaze occurred the night he set the entire mountaintop on fire while experimenting with a mixture of oxygen and propane. Daddy’s currently in his “Fourth Period of Recovery,” with the usual luxury of having virtually unlimited time to plan his next move. While his lifetime goal of dropping rotten pumpkins on the neighbors has again been put on hold, he’s taking some satisfaction in having recently been chosen for inclusion in the Smithsonian Institution’s new “Hall of Spectacular Failures.”

Such can be life on the “cutting edge.” Be wary, ye who venture there!

See ya around,



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