Marolt: Finding inspiration in a natural disaster
I wasn’t looking for it, wasn’t particularly interested in finding it, but there I was looking at it. It was what’s left of a cabin from the mining era. I guess that makes it somewhere around 120 years old, depending on if you’re measuring from the time it was built or the time it was abandoned. Who knows, those could have happened within a few months of each other. When the boom started to unravel, things happened quickly.
It isn’t hard to imagine what it once looked like, not because of what’s left, but because you know it wasn’t built for style, just a simple purpose: four corners and a roof. What it looks like now is a mess of decaying, gray logs in a jumble, the result of a natural disaster.
We’ve all had the conversation with our neighbors — we live in about as safe a place as you can imagine anywhere on earth. We have a mild climate almost completely without destructive storms. We don’t have bad earthquakes. We don’t have venomous creatures. Indigenous animals won’t generally hunt you down. Water is clean and plentiful. Fire is a constant threat, but as of now an extremely rare occurrence.
And yet what I saw near timberline, up in our mountains, could be what remained after a tornado, an earthquake, or a flood. But, it was none of those things that brought the rudimentary structure to ruin. It was just time. Just time? It occurred to me: It’s not just time. Time is actually the most powerfully destructive force of nature.
Sure, weather took its toll on the dilapidated cabin — wind and snow load crushed it and the sun baked all cellular integrity out. Oxygen slowly transformed the wood’s molecular structure. The shifting ground beneath might have played a part in breaking it up. Water undoubtedly seeped into the wood and did its thing. Even bacteria played a part in rotting the wood. But, time was necessarily complicit with all those factors. Nothing happens without time.
Say what you will about the harsh power of storms, water and fire. Heck, throw volcanoes and shifts in the tectonic plates into the discussion. You can even put meteorites, exploding super nova, and black holes into the mix, too. Time tops them all. It will eventually reduce to nothing all matter that enables the others to happen. Nothing survives the force of time, not cabins at 11,000 feet in the mountains, not the universe itself.
A thunderstorm from a distance, when the sun is right, is a beautiful thing, nourishing the Earth with essential water. The colliding of land masses over glacial time caused the inspirational mountains around us to rise. Massively powerful waves cleanse the beaches. Wildfire clears the landscape for new growth. These things are only destructive when we happen to be in the way. Then it’s inexplicable tragedy.
It’s easy to question God on matters of destruction. Why? Why was New Orleans devastated by torrential rains and hurricane ground seas? Why was Haiti leveled by an earthquake? Nobody can give you an answer. All I know is that it wasn’t punishment. If those events are punishment, then time is punishment, too. If time is retribution, the others are mere slaps on the wrist.
The truth is that time is a gift. We know that. It’s why we cherish it. It’s why we try not to waste it. If it is a gift, it can’t be a punishment, too. If it is not a punishment, then neither are any of the lesser forces of nature.
This is not to deny the pain and suffering resulting from natural disasters of any kind. But, the pain of loss is a result of love. If there was no love, the measure of loss would be negligible. Knowing love is always worth the cost of loss. Love is comforting forever. It is indestructible. It is a greater gift than time. Time allows us to foster it.
Time is a gift, love is a gift, and the forces of nature are not punishment. Still, we don’t know why. We can’t know the mind of God. Comfort comes from knowing that time will destroy all things except for the thing we desire most — love. It is the only thing that can survive time. We’ll see.
I’m glad I stumbled across the ruins of that old cabin while bushwhacking in the mountains last weekend, up high where the oxygen is thin enough to coax your body to rest and your mind to wander a bit. I expected to find something like it looking down from a peak, not on the valley floor.
Roger Marolt has heard that time moves at a measured pace. He’s not so sure. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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