If one travels far enough into space, the earth appears like a small blue ball floating, as if dangling from a string. If we watch for a long enough time, we will notice that it is turning slowly beneath the sun’s rays. In the background we may see the sun, a large yellow ball shinning brighter than anything we have ever seen. From this vantage point, our Earth looks like a peaceful place to live. The tranquil blue ocean is sometimes covered with fluffy clouds. Mountain peaks with glorious white caps reflect the incoming solar radiation. I think one of the astronauts likened it to a beautiful blue, green and white marble. To a passing alien vessel this might look like a serene, quiet place to settle, and most of the time it is. As the inhabitants of this tiny world, we might be able to tell the alien a few good stories. Recently our world has shown us what she is capable of. Most folks do not see our planet as a dynamic and ever-changing place.
For us, the inhabitants of this world, we occasionally see a different side of mother Earth. Much of the time things are reasonably peaceful but sometimes, as if to remind us that we are just tenants on this planet, Mother Nature raises her hammer and lets fly with a heavy blow. In the grander scheme of things, continents come and go, islands pop up and erode away, civilizations pass like the seasons, mountains push up and crumble over time and species, like us, are as transient as a sand castle on a beach.
It is almost comical when one listens to engineers declare that a particular device or structure has been built to withstand nature’s fury. The people on the Titanic were told they were on an indestructible ship. The oil platform in the gulf was built to withstand hurricanes and avoid possible explosions; the nuclear reactors in Japan were designed to withstand monstrous earthquakes and tsunamis. So here we are today, on the back end of one of the largest oil spills in history, and nature just leveled Japan with a 9.0 quake which turned the Japanese atomic reactors into one of the most serious radioactive disasters in the history of man. How long will it take us to learn to bow humbly bow before the awesome power of nature and realize that there is nothing that can stand up to nature when she unleashes her might.
When I taught science I would sometimes use this analogy: If the earth were a grain of sand on a beach, the ocean would repeatedly destroy us with each wave that struck the beach. Our solar system is a grain of sand in the universe. I wonder if the universe even knows if we are here. One astronomical event, be it a meteor nailing us in the kidneys or our sun having a bad ‘hair day’ or a relatively close star deciding to go nova, at this point our home becomes a cinder and we are in deep do-do.
I am just thankful for each glorious day that the universe gives me and enjoy watching the sun pass overhead, the clouds glide peacefully by and the sound of the birds who tell me that spring is here. I realize that all the things I build will someday rejoin the earth and my time on this planet will no longer be evident. That is the way of the universe.