Paul Andersen: Fair Game
September 17, 2012
The rainbow arced miraculously across the bay on Mount Desert Island in Maine. It stood like a multicolored column against a dark sky, illuminated by the setting sun. A crowd gathered as cars pulled off the road. The rainbow drew diners from a shoreside lobster restaurant where they stopped in mid-meal. Nothing else seemed to matter except that ephemeral rainbow.
The next day, a few miles away, another crowd gathered at Thunder Hole in Acadia National Park to witness the dramatic power of the ocean. Thunder Hole is a concavity in the rocky shore where waves funnel into a channel of rock, smack against the abrupt walls and, with a thunderous thud, spew foaming seawater high into the air.
The conditions were right during our family trip there two weeks ago. A light drizzle did little to dampen the allure for tourists who stood shoulder to shoulder, umbrellas furled, behind a stainless-steel rail to feel the visceral impact of the sea.
Several daring spectators inched out onto a narrow promontory where the eruptive water gushed at unexpected intervals. Anyone who had been watching for 10 minutes knew that the perfect wave would inundate the promontory, so anticipation was high when newcomers ventured out unawares.
As careful observers, my wife and son and I learned the cadence of the surf and could forecast the big spouts. The perfect setup was a big outflow that drained the rock channel and then a huge surge rising from the breakers. This is when the unsuspecting victims were deluged by a spout of sea and foam as Thunder Hole announced its force.
When that happened, everyone laughed as they do at the dunking booth at a carnival, in part to acknowledge the pratfall of fellow tourists but also to celebrate the power of the surf in the way it shook the earth and spewed a fountain of mist into the air like a geyser.
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Nature has the power to be both awe-inspiring and wondrously amusing, its mixed personalities combining into an experience that evokes magic. Nature might not always move us to care for it as stewards in our everyday lives, but when a remarkable event occurs that touches the aesthetic and primal senses in us, nature becomes commanding and electrifying.
When I guide hiking groups to Maroon Lake, I watch as they walk up to the lake and stare up at the peaks in silent wonder for the geologic time and enormity of space these peaks represent. There is something magnetic in that experience, just as there was in that rainbow and in Thunder Hole.
We don’t always do right by nature. We carelessly trammel ecosystems and pollute the biosphere and then write it off to progress, comfort and ease. We take from nature constantly as the source of our being, the basis for our economy, often without a thought. At those rare moments when we stand in awe of nature, it touches us communally and contemplatively.
As people flocked to that rainbow off the coast of Maine, they first raised their phones and cameras and observed it on the displays. After taking enough likenesses, they pocketed their devices and simply stood there gazing.
One man walked toward the prism over the tidal flats. He clasped his hands behind his back and examined the shells and seaweed at his feet. He was wearing white pants and white shoes, but the silty mud was incidental to his momentary captivation. He walked, unaware that his family had not followed. When he finally looked up and realized how far he had strayed, it was as if he had awakened from a dream.
Nature provides such dreams not as fantasy but as reality. The source of life lies in tidal flats from which primitive cellular animals evolved. The man with the white shoes was drawn by the rainbow onto the landscape of his origins through a subliminal connection that was only broken when he found himself alone.
But in nature, no one is alone, not when they are moved by a deep natural experience. A rainbow, a wave, a mountain peak – these can provide soul connections. We can tap them whenever we stop and look.
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