Lessons from “Clinton’s Ditch” and “Seward’s Folly”

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When Ray and I were proofreading the other day, we read the lesson: “Growing Up on the Erie Canal.” Many children grew up this way. Just as the families of shopkeepers lived above the shop, families of canal boat captains lived on Daddy’s canal boat. While mamas on shore kept house and cared for their families on land, mamas on canal boats had the same kinds of responsibilities in their canal boat cabins — and many homeschooled their children, too.

Last summer Ray and I stopped by an Erie Canal museum. We are standing in a business that once served people who worked on the Erie Canal.

The person who promoted the idea of building the Erie Canal (between Albany and Buffalo, New York) was New York Governor DeWitt Clinton. Lots of people thought he was nuts. They called the Erie Canal “Clinton’s Ditch.”

Governor Clinton thought that the Erie Canal would make New York City a center for trade. Governor Clinton turned out to be exactly right, while the people who talked about Clinton’s Ditch proved to be short-sighted.

When we got to the part about “Clinton’s Ditch” in the lesson, Ray reminded me that the folks who complained about “Clinton’s Ditch” were like the people who thought Secretary of State William Seward was nuts for buying Alaska. They called it “Seward’s Folly” or “Seward’s Icebox.” Actually, the United States got quite a bargain when it paid about two cents an acre for Alaska.

Ray said that these examples show that what people think right now can turn out to be very wrong in the long run. I feel sad for people who only know now and who only seem to care about now.

God was kind to give us only one day to live at a time. One day is all we can handle. However, we need to live those days equipped with lessons about what has happened before. We need to equip our children with those lessons, too.

A wise man will hear and increase in learning,
And a man of understanding will acquire wise counsel,
Proverbs 1:5

We also need to make decisions on each of those “one days” we are living so that the decisions we make today won’t plague us in the future.

Do not be deceived, God is not mocked;
for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.
For the one who sows to his own flesh
will from the flesh reap corruption,
but the one who sows to the Spirit
will from the Spirit reap eternal life.
Let us not lose heart in doing good,
for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.
Galatians 6:7-9

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