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In the valley of the shadow of youth

“In the Valley of Youth, through which all wayfarers must pass on their journey from the Land of Mystery to the Land of the Infinite, there is a village where the pilgrim rests and indulges in various excursions for which the valley is celebrated.  There also gather many guides in this spot, some of whom show the stranger all the various points of common interest, and others of whom take visitors to special points from which the views are of peculiar significance.  As time has gone on new paths have opened, and new resting places have been made from which these views are best obtained.  Some of the mountain peaks have been neglected in the past, but of late they too have been scaled, and paths have been hewn out that approach the summits, and many pilgrims ascend them and find that the result is abundantly worth the effort and the time.

“The effect of these several improvements has been a natural and usually friendly rivalry in the body of guides that show the way.  The mountains have not changed, and the views are what they have always been.  But there are not wanting those who say, ‘My mountain may not be as lofty as yours, but it is easier to ascend’; or ‘There are quarries on my peak, and points of view from which a building may be seen in process of erection, or a mill in operation, or a canal, while your mountain shows only a stretch of hills and valleys, and thus you will see that mine is the more profitable to visit.’  Then there are guides who are themselves often weak of limb, and who are attached to numerous sand dunes, and they say to the weaker pilgrims, ‘Why tire yourselves climbing a rocky mountain when here are peaks whose summits you can reach with ease and from which the view is just as good as that from the most famous precipice?’  The result is not wholly disadvantageous, for many who pass through the valley are able to approach the summits of the sand dunes only, and would make progress with greatest difficulty should they attempt to scale a real mountain, although even for them it would be better to climb a little way where it is really worth the effort instead of spending all their efforts on the dunes.

“Then too, there have of late come guides who have shown much ingenuity by digging tunnels into some of the greatest mountains.  These they have paved with smooth concrete, and have arranged for rubber-tired cars that run without jar to the heart of some mountain.  Arrived there the pilgrim has a glance, as the car swiftly turns in a blaze of electric light, at a roughly painted panorama of the view from the summit, and he is assured by the guide that he has accomplished all that he would have done, had he laboriously climbed the peak itself.

“In the midst of all the advocacy of sand-dune climbing, and of rubber-tired cars to see a painted view, the great body of guides still climb their mountains with their little groups of followers, and the vigor of the ascent and the magnificence of the view still attract all who are strong and earnest, during their sojourn in the Valley of Youth.” – David Eugene Smith, The Teaching of Geometry (1911)

Published inLit & CritMathematics

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