The Lenape (Delaware) Indians would have said Taghkanic, meaning great fall in the woods. Indeed. The main cataract at Taughannock is impressive, rising 33 feet taller than Niagara, and plunging 215 feet to the valley floor. These Taughannock Falls are just outside of Ithaca, New York; we visited there last weekend. Imagine a large river with a number of tributary streams. Now imagine a period of climate change such that the environment cools and these moving bodies of water freeze, as they did during the Pleistocene glaciation. The bottom of a tributary glacier is initially at the same level as the glacier which forms in the river. Under the influence of gravity these move and scour the substrate. Because the river glacier is more massive, it scours a deep (V-shaped), very wide (high walled) gorge; because the tributary glacier is smaller, it forms a smaller (U-shaped and shallower) one. When the glaciers recede the tributary gorge rides high above the river gorge and forms what is called a Hanging Valley, and Taughannock is a classic example of one. Geology lesson aside I wonder why we find nature, at its extremes, so awe-inspiring? Why do our eyes widen at the sight of a water fall, a deep gorge, or an ocean abyss? Why do we marvel at breaking waves, twisting tornadoes, evidences of vulcanism, cracks of thunder, and flashes of lightning? Why is it that nature both frightens and inspires? If I had to guess I would say that we are predisposed to these influences because our very ancient ancestors were directly impacted by them. Today, of course, we simply crawl into our stick boxes and are thereby afforded some protection from the elements, Earth, Water, Air, and Fire. In the old days folks couldn’t run and they couldn’t hide, they lived intimately with nature and were a part of it. I am sure this realization instilled genuine fear at the thought of an advancing storm, a flash of lightning, or the crack of thunder. We have learned, for better or worse (I do not know which) to, mostly, circumvent the inconvenience that some would call nature. Perhaps our primitive fears have been transmogrified to find expression in doubt, awe and, especially, inspiration.


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