It’s not just nature that makes me feel small.
You know that feeling. Like when you see the ocean for the first time. Or real mountains.
I remember my first trip to Colorado and that long drive westward, staring at a flat horizon, wondering, “Will we ever get there?’
I didn’t know what to expect. But John Denver had set the stage for me:
“I’ve seen it rainin’ fire in the sky. I know he’d be a poorer man if he never saw an eagle fly. Rocky mountain high.”
Oh, I was ready. I watched the horizon build and pop and soon I was surrounded. And finally, standing on a mountain, there’s that feeling that hugs you for a special moment. You feel tiny, insignificant, overwhelmed.
“Now he walks in quiet solitude the forest and the streams, seeking grace in every step he takes. His sight has turned inside himself to try and understand the serenity of a clear blue mountain lake.”
Yeah. That feeling.
This might seem strange, especially to lovers of nature, but a similar feeling envelopes me when I’m standing on a city street corner.
Or when I am walking up an ornate, winding staircase or crossing an arching, wooden bridge or whispering in a tall cathedral.
I admit to a sense of awe when I am next to large – and small – marvels built with human engineering.
I know larger structures seem more obvious and get special attention – the Eiffel Tower, Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building, Great Wall of China.
But let’s also underscore what’s close to home. Where there are many smaller sculptures. Dare I call them sculptures, as if they compete with artistry?
No, art is a different miracle of engineering. But what also deserves some kind of hallelujah are the magnificent things we build. And we are builders.
Go to that street corner. Look hard and document all that has been built. Study building designs. Applaud the skills required – made more amazing when you flashback to when it was built. You soon see the amazing vision of mankind to build things.
As I write this, I sit at a beautiful desk with little cubbyholes and drawers everywhere with all my needs in mind. I can praise the company, but the hurrah belongs to those who designed each detail.
I also appreciate the desk lamp that bends and swivels in four different places. Pretty standard, which is why we take it for granted. I plug it in and change the bulb now and then. And that is what we do with the engineering that makes our lives easier. We change the bulbs.
Don’t think I’m not amazed by nature. Those mountains keep me humble. And Denver’s song, “Rocky Mountain High,” was in part about protecting nature from the encroachment of mankind.
No, this is not a competition with nature. Just a simple observation that we are builders and have come a long way through ingenuity.
And why does that make me feel small? Because I wonder what role I play in this magical world. What skills do I have to design and build? What will I leave behind that stands through time?
Maybe my words, things I write. I hope so. Seemed to work well for John Denver.
• Lonny Cain, retired managing editor of The Times in Ottawa, also was a reporter for The Herald-News in Joliet in the 1970s. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or mail The Times, 110 W. Jefferson St., Ottawa, IL 61350.