You Can't Mess With Mother Nature (But That Doesn't Stop Me From Trying)

In his book “The Control of Nature” John McPhee chronicles such futile human efforts as spraying fire hoses on a volcanic lava flow that threatened an Icelandic fishing village, building dikes along the flood-prone Mississippi River and constructing landslide barriers around homes in California’s unstable San Gabriel Mountains.

The message is clear: You may be able to temporarily forestall destructive processes, but in the end Mother Nature always prevails.

I should have reached this conclusion long ago, but unfortunately I’m like that ant in the song, “High Hopes”:

Just what makes that little old ant

Think he’ll move that rubber tree plant

Anyone knows an ant, can’t

Move a rubber tree plant

But he’s got high hopes

He’s got high hopes

He’s got high apple pie

In the sky hopes

In my case I’m not attempting to divert lava, floods or landslides, to even trying move a rubber tree plant, but am toiling to keep roots from ripping apart a rocky ledge behind my house. The ledge, incidentally, is not about to collapse, as New Hampshire’s Old Man in the Mountain famously did 11 years ago, nor will it be a catastrophic calamity if and when it does disintegrate sometime in the next millennium or so. Truth be told the ledge serves no purpose other than to provide a nice place to stand and contemplate life while gazing at the surrounding forestscape. I find myself climbing the stone steps I built leading up the ledge almost every day.

I also spent many nights there in 1997 watching the Hale-Bopp Comet, and once spent a night on the ledge during a blizzard to test the effectiveness of a bivvy sack (I managed to sleep more or less comfortably despite 80 mph winds, 2 feet of snow and single-digit temperatures).

Over the years, though, leaves have fallen on bare rock and formed soil that found its way into tiny cracks. Nuts and seeds, carried by mice, squirrels and the wind, have taken root in these crevices and are slowly pulling the stone apart. Every so often a chunk of granite will split off from the main cliff, tumble down and shatter.

Nature not only hates a vacuum it evidently also hates hills.

Anyway, for the past few weeks I’ve been hacking away at roots and peeling away matted topsoil from the rock face, so it’s starting to look the way it probably did about 13,000 years ago when the last glacier receded.

For two or three million years much of New England had been buried by up to 1,600 feet of ice, and when that sheet pulled back it scraped away a layer of surface material — in the process creating Long Island Sound, and depositing boulders and other debris in its wake.

One of these stray boulders, called a glacial erratic, rests atop the ledge. It’s about the size and dimensions of a Volkswagen Beetle.

When friends visit for the first time and I take them on a tour of the network of stone-lined trails I’ve created over the years, I usually pause atop the ledge to describe, tongue in cheek, my Herculean efforts involving winches and crowbars to roll that boulder uphill.

After my recent toils I’m reasonably confident that at least during my lifetime the ledge and glacial erratic seem secure.

I only hope succeeding generations share my enthusiasm and keep nature at bay a little while longer.

Reader Comments

MORE BLOGS

Embrace The Cold! It’s Fun (Right)

Just as Dylan famously sang so long ago, "You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows," I don’t need a thermometer to know the temperature – or at least what to wear when I venture outside for...

A Chilly Paddle Among The Seals Off Fishers Island

"What did you say the water temperature is?" my buddy Steve Kurczy called out. "Thirty-eight degrees!" "And how long …" He didn’t have to finish the question.

Death In The Antarctic: Adventurers Who Live On The Edge Sometimes Topple Off

Virtually all outdoor enthusiasts, myself included, regard Sir Ernest Shackleton’s ill-fated Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition in 1915 as history’s most extraordinary survival tale, in which he and his entire crew managed to make it...

Death In Antarctica: Adventurers Who Live On The Edge Sometimes Topple Off

Virtually all outdoor enthusiasts, myself included, regard Sir Ernest Shackleton’s ill-fated Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition in 1915 as history’s most extraordinary survival tale, in which he and his entire crew managed to make it...

Finally, Some Cross-Country Skiing

After emerging on cross-country skis from protective evergreens into an open field the other day, I pulled on a fleece balaclava as an icy gust whipped across frozen ground and a giant, dark shadow advanced with the lowering sun.

Touching The Top Of The Bottom Of The Planet: Mystic Climber Scales Antarctica’s Tallest Mountain

Experienced mountaineers realize that reaching the peak isn’t the most important goal of any climb. The fact is, it doesn’t count unless you get back down.

Nuts About Acorns

By now I’m sure you’ve noticed, as I have on my regular rambles through the woods, that we’re up to our — er, elbows — in acorns.

A Year Of Fun: It All Begins With The New Year’s Day Run-Swim

First of all, it doesn’t hurt that much. Really.

Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow ... (And Don’t Stick Your Foot Into A Bear Cave)

I know that a month from now, when I could very well be digging out of my driveway just as I was in the accompanying photo taken last winter, I may have to eat these words, but ... Come on! Where’s all the snow?!

An Impromptu Kayak Circumnavigation of Fishers Island in December: Glad I Missed the ‘Fun’ Part

You know those adventures you could have experienced but had to pass up for one reason or another, and then when you later ask how it went your friends gush, "Oh, man, it was awesome! Best time of our life! You shoulda been...

Celebrating Second-place Slackers: A Quiz

Back when my son Tom and I were tagging all 67 of the 4,000-plus-foot mountains in New England, a perverse idea crossed my mind: What if we stopped inches short of each peak and then climbed back down?

With The Fagin Fitness Ankle Bracelet or Fagin Fitness Implant, You WILL Get In Shape!

The problem with Fitbit, Jawbone Up, Withings Pulse, Microsoft Band and other electronic fitness trackers is that, like so many old-school aids designed to get people off their butts and into shape (workout charts, personal trainers,...

Beware The Deadly Deer

Every season presents the potential for paradise or peril.

Autumn Berries: A Succulent Reward During A Long Bike Ride

While biking through the hills and along the shore of Mystic and Stonington the other day with my friend Spyros "Spy" Barres and son Tom, I began to regret that I neglected to bring along a water bottle.