Nature can be a magnificent thing when we pause to notice.
If you have ever driven across the Great Plains and watched a lightning storm light up the night sky for a hundred miles in a fireworks display no human effort could duplicate, you realize its majesty and power. If you have peered into the vastness of the Grand Canyon, where the Colorado River has carved 12-mile-deep canyons into the rugged stone, you appreciate its patient, relentless grandeur.
And even if you have paused in your daily routine to observe the lesser splendors we find all around us — flowers in bloom, the trees, the clouds as they glide across a summer sky — nature’s magnificence must be acknowledged.
We find inspiration in the natural world on those occasions when we allow ourselves a quiet moment to watch and wonder.
Most of the time, nature is something we can ignore or acknowledge. It is our choice to do either. We feel we have some control in the relationship.
But there are other times when nature commands our attention, often in the most violent of ways.
For centuries, the picturesque little town of Amatrice, Italy, stood on the fault line, tranquil and carefree. Despite its precarious location, no major earthquake had ever struck the town.
There was some comfort in that. It is unlikely anyone in the village gave even a passing thought to earthquakes as they went to bed Tuesday evening. And then, in the pre-dawn hours Wednesday, a 6.2-magnitude earthquake turned the town into rubble, claiming 247 lives and injuring another 400.
To the people of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the arrival of August mainly meant the another season of LSU football was soon at hand and the end of a long, hot, dry summer was just on the horizon. And then it began to rain, a welcomed respite at first. It rained, and rained and rained some more.
Over two days, more than two feet of rain had fallen, turning benign little rivers and creeks into raging torrents, spilling out over miles, and damaging or destroying more than 40,000 homes.
Out west, the California wildfire season, seems poised to set records. To date, there have been more than 4,000 fires destroying hundreds of homes and 170 million trees, the National Forest Service estimates.
Tornadoes, too, bring nature’s fury down on the unsuspecting, as it did this week in Indiana and Ohio, when as many as 12 tornadoes ripped through Indiana in a single night, gouging a mile-wide path of destruction across two states.
Nature may appear serene, but it is an illusion. Today — every day, in fact — nature will display her awesome fury somewhere, somehow. In the Atlantic, a gathering storm is watched carefully as it makes its erratic, unpredictable journey toward our nation’s southern shores.
In the meantime, we take the precautions we can, reach out to those who have suffered from nature’s fury and turn out attention to the more immediate concerns of the day.
But we are not deceived or deluded. Most of the time, nature is a pleasant diversion.
But there are times, too, when she will not be ignored and she will shake us with her power.
In those times, we quickly realize that man is no match for nature.
He has never been. Nor will he ever be.