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Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Permanence of Temporary Things: A Meditation

In the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia,
On the trail of the lonesome pine—
In the pale moonshine our hearts entwine,
Where she carved her name and I carved mine;
Oh, June, like the mountains I'm blue—
Like the pine I am lonesome for you,
In the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia,
On the trail of the lonesome pine.

—from "The Trail of the Lonesome Pine"
A few hundred million years ago, a river dried up. It had been around for several million years, a barely-noticeable flicker in the geological sense of time. Perhaps it had found a new path, as shallow things sometimes do when things start to change around them. Perhaps its source had dried up and it no longer had anything to draw from, and as its lifespring dried up, it did too.

Whatever the case, its end is lost in the eternal current of time. We would have nothing left to speculate about had it not crossed paths with the Blue Ridge Mountains. Its temporary existence left a permanent pass in this ridge, and a way for things to get from one side of it to the other. It is gone, but it will never leave the ridge it once knew.

Looking eastward from V128, flying from CRW to IAD. If you want to look closer, the coordinates are approximately 38° 29' N, 78° 42' W.
Some millions of years before, that mountain ridge started skyward. Mountains climb when we're not looking. They grow like children, who stay the same day by day but somehow get bigger and bigger by the year. We grow like mountains, shaped by the forces that surround us, made distinct by what we cross paths along with along the way.

Sometime this growing process is tumultuous and chaotic. It is always disruptive, going from what is to what will be. That's why it's called growth. It also happens when we're not looking, or happens too slowly for us to see. We humans are almost as good at not seeing things that are there as we are at seeing things that aren't.

Sometimes the forces we encounter during that growth leave us a bit twisted. Where we are twisted, where the stresses and strains occur, we also end up the tallest.

Some of those we cross paths with cause scars. Those scars, like everything, may seem permanent, but they are no less subject to the erosion of time as anything else. They may seem more solid, more fixed, but their permanence is only temporary.

Handled well—and we all have to handle them—they become a better part of our character. The moon has craters, scars from impacts it suffered long ago with bodies long gone; they are what make it a beautiful fixture in the night sky instead of a plain bright ball. The Grand Canyon draws people from around the planet to drink in its immense, rugged beauty, yet is a scar left by the Colorado River. One of its most endearing features is that as the river carved its way through the plateau, it revealed the layers that are present underneath our feet, yet would never be seen any other way.

Almost yesterday, in geologic time, ice covered much of North America. The ice's day was as temporary as it was recent, but as it made its abrupt retreat, it gouged out permanent scars in the landscape of New York State. These long scars became a beautifully parallel set of lakes: the Finger Lakes.

Those scars are evidence that something's presence—and now its absence—was at one time important. It is the essence of the temporary given permanence.

Not everyone, however, is that important to us. Some pass through our lives like power lines cross mountains: unflinchingly straight while not even scratching our surface.

Others, like this sunset, are even more transient and temporary

yet leave us with a permanent memory of the spiral of light they caused to dance on the ceiling for a few brief moments before they passed on.

Some leave dry passes within us as a trace that they were once there. Others stay with us, filling up and flowing through those passes, and we shape them as they shape us.

And for those whose lives we pass through temporarily, perhaps the best hope we can have is to bring them a rainbow on their cloudy day; a bit of glory in their gloom.

We contain mountains within us, and from the top of those mountains flow rivers that shape others. Unlike mountains made of stone, however, we are made of stronger stuff. We can choose our response to the forces around us and change what kind of water springs from our tops. Only by doing so can our temporariness have a permanent impact.

The author is an airline pilot, flight instructor, and adjunct college professor teaching aviation ground schools. He holds an ATP certificate with a DHC-8 type rating, as well as CFI, CFII, MEI, AGI, and IGI certificates, and is a FAASafety Team representative and Master-level participant in the FAA's WINGS program. He is on Facebook as Larry the Flying Guy, has a Larry the Flying Guy YouTube channel, and is on Twitter as @Lairspeed.

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