More inspiration and the avalanche

Hello again. I thought I would tackle two topics in this, hopefully brief, post. The first is another selection from Light from many Lamps. This selection comes from Richard E. Byrd, who in 1934 spent 5 months alone in Antarctica gathering data on polar meteorology. One night, as he sat in the bitter cold, he came to a realization of man’s place in the universe. If you have read quotes from Neil deGrasse Tyson, you may have heard similar thoughts. Personally, I think Byrd is much more lyrical in his delivery:

“I paused to listen to the silence. My breath, crystallized as it passed my cheeks, drifted on a breeze gentler than a whisper. The wind vane pointed toward the South Pole. Presently the wind cups ceased their gentle turning as the cold killed the breeze. My frozen breath hung like a cloud overheard. 

The day was dying, the night was being born – but with great peace. Here were the imponderable processes and forces of the cosmos, harmonious and soundless. Harmony, that was it! That was what came out of the silence – a gentle rhythm, the strain of a perfect chord, the music of the spheres, perhaps.

It was enough to catch that rhythm, momentarily to be myself a part of it. In that instant I could feel no doubt of man’s oneness with the universe. The conviction came that that rhythm was too orderly, too harmonious, too perfect to be a product of blind chance – that, therefore, there must be purpose in the whole and that man was part of that whole and not an accidental offshoot. It was a feeling that transcended reason, that went to the heart of a man’s despair and found it groundless. The universe was a cosmos, not a chaos; man was as rightfully a part of that cosmos as were the day and night.”

Now, this does not have much to do with my current mental state, nor with my research. I simply stumbled across it and found the words beautiful and the thought empowering. I, too, have experienced something very similar, but in a very different location. It really is quite amazing what one can conceive when one takes time alone with the elements. I hope that others feel this way. If you have not experienced this transcendent silence, I strongly urge you to spend more time in solitude. I do not believe it is something you can find through deliberate searching, but there is no doubt you will recognize it upon discovery. The moment will penetrate the very fiber of your being and leave you wondering why you had never felt this way before. I think the moment, time of day, and location are different for each individual, and quite particular to the individual, in fact. It is something I promise you will never forget, and something you will often experience again.


On a different note, the avalanche on the slopes leading to Chomolungma (Mt. Everest) last week was undoubtedly a horrible day for the Sherpa community. The most recent numbers say that 16 were killed, most of which were Sherpas, the others coming from other ethnic groups in Nepal. Many of those who know my research interests have been asking whether this will affect it at all. I am here to say that, for the most part, it has not and likely will not in the coming weeks. The hard truth about this occurrence is simply that these things happen. Yes, it was the most devastating accident in the history of climbing Chomolungma, and yes it took more lives of close family and friends than I think any of us could comprehend losing in a lifetime, let alone one fell swoop. You can read the copious amounts of articles online discussing possible Sherpa strikes, the end of this mountaineering season, and the apparent lack of respect the Nepali government has for what the Sherpas and other climbers do. But what you might also find, as I have found in speaking to a number of Sherpas, many of whom have lost at least 2 friends (one has lost 8), Sherpas simply say, “yes it was horrible, and it may scare some Sherpas and others may stop working/never pursue mountaineering, but overall it is simply part of the job.” What they do is hazardous, and it has been since the first attempts in the early 20th century. This will not change, and it is unlikely the Sherpas’ work in the mountains will cease altogether. The world of mountaineering mourns the loss of 16 well respected and deeply loved young men, and there is no doubt people will reconsider their adventurous endeavors as a result. If you want to learn more, it is best to read as many articles as possible to get a variety of angles on the story. Many of them also discuss ways to donate to organizations that will provide the families of the dead men with proper compensation. This is one of the biggest issues on the table now; whether the lives of the climbers, particularly the Sherpas, are being valued by their government as evidenced by the compensation given to the families. Often time this only amounts to about Rs.40,000 (about $400). Simply not enough for those who lost their main source of income.

I don’t want to say any more at risk of spreading rumors. I would simply say keep the families in your thoughts. Thank you, and I’ll talk to you again soon.