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

In Stride With Women Runners: Amby Burfoot Celebrates Their History In A New Book

Back in the Dark Ages when I was growing up, one of the worst insults an adolescent male could hurl at one of his buddies was, "You run like a girl!"

Danger, Swan Attack! Quick, Wring Its Neck!

It’s difficult to imagine a more outrageous example of idiotic government overreaction than this week’s incident involving a mute swan on Five Mile Pond in Danielson, which would almost be laughable if the outcome weren’t so...

The Parable Of The Rope: An Icy Mountain Drama In New Hampshire's Carter Notch

With a blustery breeze making the 8-degree temperature feel as if were a few notches below zero, our group didn’t intend to dawdle while scrambling back to civilization. The mountain hut where we spent the night had been so frigid my boots...

Over The Falls! A Salmon River Adventure

You know that feeling when you’re about to attempt something adventurous that at first seemed it would be fun, but then doubts about your safety and sanity crept in? Oh no! Too late!

There's No Such Thing As Too Much Garlic

A few years ago, while visiting relatives in Canada, I noticed a giant basket of produce in a corner of the kitchen. "Wow! Where’d you get all that garlic?" I asked.

Plenty Of Mudslinging On The Trail

Well, we’ve made it through another winter, though for snow and ice fans it was pretty pitiful – but we’re not quite out of the woods when it comes to challenging hiking conditions.

Hey, Shaddup Out There! At Least Can You Tone Down All That Screeching, Snorting, Squawking, Croaking, Buzzing And Howling?

OK, I get it. It’s mating season, when all the furry, feathered and slimy critters are desperate for a little action, using the only pickup technique they know: make loud noises.

'Life Is Full of Roadblocks, But You Have to Drive Through Them' – Dirk Vlieks' Inspiring Recovery

After having swum the 1.2-mile leg of Hawaii’s Rohto Half-Ironman triathlon Dirk Vlieks of Mystic was 22 miles into the 56-mile bike section, already thinking ahead to the 13.1-mile run to the finish line, when he began to feel...

My Acute Case of OCWD (Obsessive Compulsive Wood Disorder)

You’d think that those of us who heat with wood can relax this time of year when we no longer must make 10 trips a day to the woodshed, stumble out of bed at 3 a.m. to stoke the stove, continuously shovel ashes and forage the forest for...

The Eagles Have Landed Again On The Connecticut River – And A Surprise Encounter While Kayaking Among Ice Floes

For viewing shore birds, marine mammals and a veritable Noah’s ark of critters that live near the water, nothing beats a kayak. Over the years I’ve paddled among seals, loons, beavers, sharks, sea turtles, otters, muskrats, snakes,...

Maple Syrup Magic: A Sweet Reminder Of Impending Spring

Skunk cabbage and crocuses poking through the snow; almost two extra hours of daylight, a robin’s chirp; the arrival of pitchers and catchers at baseball training camps – unmistakable signs of the approaching season abound, but as far...

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...