-Arches National Park-
I know, life for the two of us is like an endless vacation, it is so wonderful, and in some ways I don’t fully understand how it happened that it turned out this way for us. The longer I look at this amazing phenomenon of life the more I think of it as a big holiday. Holiday= vacation: a time away from work devoted to pleasure, a time of freedom. Not in the sense of freedom from responsibility, freedom from obligations or duties, not carefree, but a time without agenda, a time without a real plan, without a program. And without agenda doesn’t mean with no agenda, far from it. Without agenda means: we can make our own. However, that’s not even the point. The heart of the matter is we must make our own. We are free, and yet, we cannot reject this freedom. The freedom of life feels to me a bit like the freedom in free fall: Somehow, in an extremely brutal and yet very simple way, it doesn’t matter what you do while you fall, you crash anyway. You can scream as much as you like that you don’t want this kind of freedom, you have it anyway. It is a very special freedom, a holy freedom, a holiday.
Life as a holiday? This can sound terribly arrogant. The poor devil in Darfur, endlessly struggling just to survive, will have a hard time to see it that way. And yet, we all live and die according to obviously unknowable laws. We are dealt conditions we could never choose. But, we are all totally free to play with what was dealt.
So, why not make a holiday within a holiday? It always tends to be a bit rainy at home this time of the year.
It’s spring; we haven’t been in Utah for a while. It’s only 4 long driving days away, it’s spring, the brutal heat hasn’t arrived there yet, the heat that otherwise, in summer, lies over that land like a curse.
Utah, a conservative state; people seem to be a bit old-fashioned, but maybe because of that they have preserved a genuine friendliness out in the country that makes you smile and feel at ease.
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Utah: the land where Nature has done things to rock that seem almost impossible.
This is Landscape Arch in Arches National Park:
290 feet (88m) free spanning. Only 6 feet (1.8m) thick somewhere in the middle at the structurally most sensitive section. Like all the other miracles in rock in Utah it has come into existence by nothing but natural erosion, caused by water, wind, and relentless temperature changes. It’s almost unbelievable at first sight, really, you think of an optical delusion or some other man-made deception. But it is real! You can touch it and feel it. At least I did, when I saw it the first time 22 years ago. I could not resist to climb up and walk over it. It’s of course very illegal, but I had to do it anyway in order to feel it with my own senses.
It is pretty hard to get there. It took some unprotected hair-raising 5.8 moves, a 25 foot rope rappel, and later muscling up that rope without ‘jumars‘ on the way back. I did it very early in the morning, only Parvin saw me, I thought. But she came across a woman who pointed out to her that she just saw a strange animal on the arch. Parvin calmed her down that it must have been an illusion.
It is hard to believe that this miracle of a rock formation came into being to begin with, but it’s just as incredible that, after millions of years, it is still standing. In 1991, long after I had seen it the first time, a huge chunk of rock fell off the arch, and – isn’t it somewhat symptomatic for our information-oversaturated times? – someone actually took a picture of it:
It took millions of years to form this feature. The process started long before man entered the scene. The chances of being the witness of such an event are much slimmer than winning any lottery. Since then two more pieces have fallen off, one 70 feet long.
22 years ago this was Wall Arch. I had seen it with my own eyes. It’s not there any longer. It collapsed only one or two years ago. A heap of rubble is left, an old wooden sign lies on the ground, and a rusty chain keeps people from falling into the abyss.
Somehow the evidence of impermanence is always shocking, no matter what the context is. Geological processes seem so theoretical, so slow that we cannot quite grasp them with our senses. However, when the time comes things happen in moments, no matter how many billions of years may have passed. A moment is a moment, timeless and real, the only time that matters. The collapse of this arch seems incredibly significant to me, but, of course, what does it really matter? Just another step in an ongoing process. Entropy taking its course. Arches don’t rise up from the ground. They sometimes occur when rock breaks down, when stuff actually falls down.
One of the most fundamental laws of Nature is that it changes and that these changes have a principal direction. The universe is governed by processes that relentlessly transform physical things from order to lesser order, from pattern to amorphousness, from concentration to delusion, from higher to lower energy. Eggs break, paint peels, ice melts, skin wrinkles. This creates what physicists call Entropy. Opposed to this unique condition of inanimate Nature – to gradually but inescapably downgrade and “deteriorate” – life has the extraordinary quality, in which it differs from everything else, to somehow not obey this “merciless” Second Law of Thermodynamics. It disregards Entropy and makes just as relentlessly order out of disorder; it creates instead of destroying. But, perhaps, this is just a temporary concept because we don’t understand the full story (yet).
I don’t even try to explain what I feel when I stumble over this ruin, It’s far beyond thought or words.
This is another highly exotic combination of arches. The mind has usually no references to stuff like this; in a quite profound way we don’t fully believe what we see. I often watch other people how they look at things like this and turn away making funny remarks, somehow helplessly denying the magnitude of the experience.
It got very warm in Arches, although it was still spring we had days with almost 100 degrees.
Again years ago, I had to jump around on these rocks. (Canyonlands N.P.)
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… to be continued with part 2, 3, 4, and 5.
Klaus June 2009