The Future’s Uncertain And The End Is Always Near
Once, a few years ago, I went on a hiking trip with a couple of friends of mine. We were hiking up this one mountain that supposedly had this great view from the top, at least that’s what the guidebook said. The top was an area that wasn’t a jagged peak, or surrounded by trees, but it was shaped like a large smooth dome, and was free from any obstructions. The way the book described it, it made it sound like you hiked through all these rough switchbacks, and through some fairly dense trees, and then when you got within half a kilometer of the top, the trees disappeared, and it was all flat, and open. Kind of like a giant, curved soccer field, only at about 13,000 feet.
We’d planned the trip for a couple months, as we had to choose a time when it was convenient for the three of us. It was quite a drive, and we had to leave right after work on Friday, drive for a few hours, sleep at the trailhead, and then start hiking Saturday morning. The plan was to find a place to camp about halfway up the mountain, then leave our heavy packs and continue on. If we were lucky, we’d get to the top, have about hour to spend up there, and then get back down to our campsite before dark. Then we’d huff it out and drive home Sunday afternoon.
Unfortunately, the weather didn’t cooperate. Even though we’d planned weeks in advance, and checked the weather reports, we ran into some trouble. We left on Friday, as we’d planned, and got to the trailhead about 10 PM, laid out our sleeping bags on the ground, and started hiking. And as we’d planned, we got to the campsite around noon, giving us plenty of time to get to the top and back down to our campsite before dark. But about halfway to the top, a bunch of huge, black clouds started to roll in. So we figured we may have to cut our time short on top, but getting to the top was the whole reason we’d made the trip, so we pressed on. By the time we got to the top, the clouds were right on top of us. And it started raining pretty hard. Not only that but there was also plenty of lightning and thunder.
Now as a kid, (and even as an adult) I always thought thunder and lightening were pretty cool. But not this time. Every other time I’d seen lightening, and heard thunder, I was safe. Even before when I’d been backpacking and the weather changed, I was far enough away to enjoy it without worry. Not this time.
This time we were at the highest spot with a hundred miles. And the lighting was right on top of us. You know how when you see the flash of the lightning, and then you count to see how many seconds the thunder is behind it? Then it was instantaneous. And the lightning was so bright we knew that it was dangerously close.
They say that you can tell if you are going to get hit by lightning if your hair starts to stand on end. That lightning really isn’t a spontaneous discharge, there is a buildup of static electricity, and as it seeks a place to discharge, it “charges” the path slightly before. And if you happen to be in the vicinity, you will notice that charge as your body is covered in static electricity, much like when you walk around dragging your feet on the carpet before sneaking up on somebody and giving them a shock. With enough static electricity, your hair will stick up, like when somebody rubs a balloon to build up a charge and holds it to your hair.
Only it was pouring down rain by then, and I didn’t think that we’d notice our hair standing up on end, as we were soaked. And running as fast as we could off the top of the mountain.
I remember reading about how the South tried to finance it’s way through the civil war. The sold quite a bit of cotton futures to France. France stood to make quite a lot of money, and a lot of the Southern government, and hence their armies, had quite a bit of up front financing. The French were assured that they would profit, as the South seemed poised to win the war. But as it happened, the South lost, and France lost quite a bit of money on the deal. Despite all their planning and best estimates, things didn’t turn out quite as bad. Of course, the French only had a financial stake in the war. Those that had much more things in involved, like their property or their lives, lost even more. After the south capitulated, the burning of plantations by northern armies was quite common.
Even Hitler’s armies were no match for the unforeseeable. They marched across Europe without many problems, but when they ran into Stalingrad, they stopped dead in their tracks. In large part due to the worst storm in a hundred years.
Sometimes no matter how much you plan for something, no matter how well you use the information at your disposal, your plans can quickly and easily crumble, with horrible results by forces that are just out of your control. That doesnâ€™t mean that you shouldnâ€™t try, that only means that success is never guaranteed, and certainly never inevitable. But life wouldn’t be much fun if there weren’t any risks.
Those that wait until chances are perfect, and success is guaranteed before they take action are going to be waiting long time. As Dale Carnegie said, the sure thing boat never gets very far from shore. There’s always the danger of storm, and the boat sinking.
Fortunately, we got down quick enough, and back under the cover of the trees without getting hit by lightning. But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t scared out of my wits. It’s one thing to see and hear lighting and thunder off in the distance, it’s another to hear it, over and over again, with fifty yard or so from where you stand, or in our case, running away from it. It’s as if Mother Nature wants to remind you that she could kill you in an instant without a second thought. It’s not like humans are in short supply on her planet.
Once we got back down to our camp, the rain had stopped, or maybe it was just raining up on top. We enjoyed evening much more than other nights spent sitting around a campfire after a days hike. Making it through harrowing experiences tends to have that effect on people.
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