Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Inventor's way

Holiday lights brighten the grounds of the Edison winter home in Florida through the Christmas season.

The historic residence, a must-see stop at Ft. Myers, is interesting at any time of the year. 

The festive night glow which emanates from the Edison estate in the long dusk of December is a special touch.

It's a reminder that this spot celebrates Thomas Alva Edison, inventor of the electric light bulb.

We had a chance to visit the Edison winter home this past Christmas. It's not our first visit. We came here years ago when the kids were young.

Somewhere in the family albums is a photo from that visit. They're side by side, in shorts and grins, under the enormous banyan tree. 

Edison's banyan tree was the largest tree we'd ever seen. It seemed to spread out like the network of electric lighting that came from his brilliant invention.

A visit last year gave us the chance to do justice to the site as a learning center. 

The warm sunny January afternoon did much to revive our chilled Minnesota bones.

The sky was an exceptional blue, even as viewed by Florida standards. The Caloosahatchee River flowed serenely past the former Edison estate. 

The first thing I learned is that Edison found his future riverside property a place of beauty while searching for a good source of bamboo for his scientific investigations.

We came away with heads informed with new knowledge. One of the things that stuck was the friendship between Edison and Detroit car maker Henry Ford. 

Edison invited Ford to his Ft. Myers retreat. Mild climate might have been the original drawing card, but the easy association between the two families made them good neighbors with Ford's purchase of the home next door.

Ford didn't reside at his craftsman style bungalow through the full season. He typically was here for several weeks instead. This period often covered the time in February when his friend Edison had his birthday.

At Ft. Myers and elsewhere ideas were constantly hatched and thrashed out between these two fecund and industrious minds and others in their close group. Talk was lively and plans were always in the making.

This year our visit to the Edison home was abbreviated. We subtracted from the visit to add time to another stop on our list.

Manatees were coming in numbers to the power plant warm springs east of the city and we had only so much time to see both. 

With manatees the main attraction the Edison home was streamlined to a tour of the Christmas decorations we'd heard about. 

The holiday trimming and lighting throughout the grounds makes this a great Christmas visit either by day or at night.

My favorite part of the tour turned out to be very close to our starting point. It was the garden-size plot of decorated Christmas trees near Mrs. Edison's garden.  

The plaques beside each tree indicate this is an annual decoration project undertaken by area schools. 

Each tree had the ornamental spin given it by a classroom or by an entire school. . There were many instances of very creative ornamentation. The inventive touches would have made Edison proud.

Several of the trees had quotations from Edison and Ford. The framed sayings were  suspended from the boughs.

Some of the wood frames were made from broken pieces of rulers. The rulers were of the kind that every kid had in their desk when I was in grade school. 

The rulers brought me back to my classroom days. It had the effect of making the decorated trees seem more than the finished art which draws an admiring audience.

The rulers provide a sense of the thinking that goes into decorating each tree.They call to mind first classroom assignments by which we're instructed to use our creativity or come up with some design as a team goal. 

The rulers also evoke the labs where Edison applied scientific methods to explore, record, revise and discover his findings. 

The rulers, by their measured increments, represent the careful experimental approach that underlies the core of scientific discovery.

Edison said genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration. His research lab on the Edison estate gives proof to his observation.

Scientific advances almost always come from the slogging grind of the tried and rehashed until some new breakthrough is revealed.

Digging into my handbag for paper I took down a number of the sayings which decorated the trees. Here they are:

I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that will not work.  (Thomas Edison, 1847-1931)

To invent you need a good imagination and a pile of junk. (Thomas Edison)

When everything seems to be going against you remember that an airplane takes off against the wind.   (Henry Ford, 1863-1947)

Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.  (Henry Ford)

Do not find fault, find a remedy.  (Henry Ford)

The most certain way to succeed is always to try one more time. (Thomas Edison)

If we did all the things we are capable of we would literally astound ourselves. (Thomas Edison)

And this, attached to a Christmas tree as I recall, was just too cute not to record and share: "Dear Mr. Edison, Thank you for helping Rudolph light the way  XXXOOO Kids Everywhere, Rayma C. Page Elementary"  

As you study the Christmas trees it's obvious students get the concept of recycling. Their decorations proves that recycling can be resourceful reinvention. 

As an example, one tree used crushed metal cans as ornamental pendants. The reimagined cans dressed the boughs with the glitter of silver tinsel. They dazzled in the sunlight.

January and its new start attitude is a good time to look again to Thomas Edison. 

Perseverance, the courage to call a dead end not a failure but a fresh start, and the willingness to work hard and persevere all were Edison's way. 

It can be our way if we make it so. It can lead us into a productive, satisfying and growth filled year.

Ro Giencke - January 15, 2013

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