Wednesday, August 3, 2005

Gracious and kind. They are two adjectives that tend to be reserved for when one is describing others' demeanor. But most recently I have heard these two adjectives interjected again and again, as it pertains to humankind's interaction with Nature.

Following a two-year lull, the shuttle craft Discovery lifted off gracefully from its launch pad and, in its successful launch, it seemed to soften the painful sting of the Columbia shuttle tragedy of February 2003. When further describing the details of the launch and all of its parameters, NASA officials stated that the weather conditions couldn't have been better. One senior NASA official commented, "Mother Nature cooperated with us fully today; it was perfect weather. Mother Nature was gracious to us."

Two weeks ago, I was lucky (and there is a certain amount present on any high altitude climb) enough to have the opportunity to successfully summit Mt. Rainier in Washington state. One of our guides, upon returning to our 10,000 ft. elevation camp from the 14, 411 ft. elevation summit, commented to us, "We were successful today, gentlemen. But we didn't conquer the mountain. It simply was kind to us and invited us to its summit..."

As much as we may sometimes lull ourselves into an illusionary cocoon of safety, it remains paramount to remember that we are simply celestial tourists on this minute spinning sphere of dust and dirt. We, as a species, were not here first and I suspect we, as a species, will not be here last. Nature has a way of balancing all of those details out.

At best, we are temporary stewards, guardians and caretakers of a fragile, dynamic, forceful and sometimes volatile ecosystem. We are meek partners in the evolutionary process of this planet, this solar system and this galaxy. And yet, in the shadow of this meek partnership, we continue to advance and expand our impact and stewardship.

The question "For what specific reason did you to climb Mt. Rainier?" was asked of me time and time again, following my climb. I suspect my answer may be one shared by so many others, including my humankind colleagues of NASA. My answer? "The Creator designed the heavens and the seas and our human spirit not as barriers in this Life, but as milestones in better appreciating the grandeur of the Creator. They exist not so that humankind may conquer them, but for humankind to humbly stand among them - in awe, in respect, in harmony. The very same might be said about Life itself and the journey we walk through it."

Why do we climb and soar and strive? Not only because we can, but because we were designed to do so. To further witness the majesty of Natural process; and in that witness, to greater appreciate the Hand that formed it.

So we continue to climb and soar and strive... and it helps when Nature is also gracious and kind.

hoedl's haven
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