Thursday, October 27, 2011

Falling


Ah, look what I found on the web, an old photo of Lulu Falls on Lookout Mountain near Chattanooga, Tennessee. (Click to enlarge.)

I spent many hours there in my teenage years, some fun, some terrifying. The place was usually deserted, so it was a good spot to take a girlfriend. And now, reading this, my wife will know that she wasn't the first and only. Oh well, that warm sunny day when we set on a cliff-top looking out over Chattanooga Valley was certainly the best.

I loved the power of the falls, spilling from a great height, inexorably taking down the mountain, grain by grain, eon by eon. All that water, lifted onto the mountain by the Sun, pulled down by gravity, a huge solar engine grinding away -- incorporating at some point all four of the fundamental forces of nature.

I wasn't thinking of any of that at the time -- I had other things on my mind. But I'm sure it impressed itself on my consciousness in a subliminal sort of way. Why else would I look at this photograph today, half-a-century later, and hear the roar, taste the mist, and feel the cool wet rock underfoot. Even then, nature was whispering her seductions in my ear.

Why did I go looking for a picture of Lulu Falls on the web? Because I saw this image on APOD (Astronomy Picture of the Day).


A "waterfall" of glowing gas in the vast molecular clouds of the constellation Orion. Nothing else quite like it that I know of, and its origin is a mystery. Of course, it only looks like a waterfall if you view it in one orientation -- there's no up or down in the greater universe. And the scale? Ten light-years from "top" to "bottom," about the distance from the Sun to Sirius. No roar, no mist, no solid strata. But powered by the same four forces of nature -- the squeeze of gravity, fusion reactions that involve the strong and weak nuclear forces, electromagnetic radiation.

It's all of a piece. The universe is infinitely complex and stunningly simple. On a planet of a distant star there are undoubtedly waterfalls -- same forces, same elements, same molecular bonds. And what about the boy and the girl, sitting side by side, holding hands, falling in love? In a sense, utterly unique. But then again,
just one more way the universe churns with endless cycles of matter and energy.