A neighbor across the way saw one of my prodigious accomplishments, and he said, "If you'd call on me, I'd give you a hand." He added, "But you're such a one for going it alone. . . ."
I readily explained to him that I was never alone, but was surrounded by adequate talent to give me every assistance in time of need. "I keep Archimedes on retainer," I said. Once in a great while Archimedes goofs, or he stands in the way and I step on his foot, but over the years he has been a faithful assistant.
From my earliest recollections, sitting on my grandfather's knee while he told tall tales of the pioneer days was to remain my best instruction. His stories were the family lore, and all of them taught. Like as not it would be a brisk winter night and we'd have the wood stove humping so the dog would come out from under and lie by the doorway to cool off. Kerosene lamp, instead of power line, was a generation away. Sometimes, when I was older, he would ask me to read to him from the Bible, and I'd stumble away on the Old Testament histories while he'd nod and catch a wink. He linked the stories. One evening I was going fine when I came to a passage of begats. The son of this and the son of that. I skipped that and came on the other side to the story again, and Gramp, who was dozing, roused with a start and said, "You skipped!"
"You shouldn't do that," he said. "Those people lived just as you and I do, and they went their way, and all we know about them is what you just skipped. We owe them something. Now, go back and pay'em some respect."
And I remember in particular, a few years before the Bible-reading began, the evening he told how this father -- my great- grandfather -- had built a log cabin as the old farm's first dwelling. Leaving tidewater as a boy of 19 with a wife and two children, Jacob had moved inland to take up acreage in the Bowdoin Quadrangle, and here he was, clearing land and making ready for a lifetime. There was no neighbor to "call on." The upland pines were big, but the wood was cheesy and they chopped well. One by one he tipped them down that first spring and got some open space for a garden. His necessity of a tight home was not that pressing -- he would have one ready by cold weather, and he did.
The great pine logs, three and four feet in diameter, had to be cut to size, hewn to fit, and then raised into position. Here was a task no one man could do by himself, and grandfather's story that evening was the marvel of how Jacob, all soul alone in the wilderness, had performed that task. It was to be a good many years before I would be in high school, taking a subject called physics,m and would begin to understand the principles of kinetics and machinery. It would be some time before I would hear about Archimedes. I'm sure Jacob, and probably my grandfather as well, had never heard of Archimedes, but Archimedes was there in that Maine wilderness clearing all the time, lending a hand and bossing the job.
The lever, with which Archimedes would move the world, was present in the canting tool that gave one man the strength to roll big logs. It was also in the "Samson Pole," a way of levering a reluctant tree of its stump so it would fall. The inclined plane, too -- the smaller logs and poles that made ramps and rollways. The pulley, with plenty of hemp. Grandfather explained specifically how the ramp and pulley and lever made it possible for Jacob to get one great log atop another, and another, until he had a wall ready to take the timbers of a roof.
It was all, I came to know later, kinetics and force, and simple Archimedes -- except for one things. Jacob had to teach his oxen to respond to spoken commands -- he was busy with his levers and lines, with his boosting and bracing , and he couldn't walk by the nigh ox with his goadstick and do proper teaming. So he would yell "Gee!" and he would yell "Haw!" and when he yelled "Whoa-heish!" the critters would stop. Then he would rearrange his poles and his lines, and get a new hitch, and then he would yell some more. The cabin was ready for winter.
I still consi der Archimedes our best authority and good help.