I am a rock, I am an island

It’s sometimes odd to me how two apparently unrelated thoughts can suddenly converge to reinforce a common theme. One such example happened to me today.

I was considering how well a friend of mine had done in fighting against some compulsive behaviour issues – far better than the person concerned recognised themself. It struck me as slightly odd that they couldn’t see the extent of progress I saw. At the same time, whilst flicking through 200 tv channels of not very much, I stumbled across a story relating to stones in death valley reportedly moving of their own accord.

In recent years any serious follower of land speed records will have become familiar with the area of death valley and its use as a super-flat, super-clear raceway.

Creeping rock tracks

Creeping rock tracks

However, that isn’t strictly true. Across the vast dry river beds there are strewn a large number of rocks and boulders scattered at apparently random intervals. Each of these rocks leaves a snail like trail tracing its progress across the desert floor, although interestingly, nobody had ever seen these rocks move.

For many years, a range of competing theories was put forward as to the cause of these mysterious trails. Hurricane force winds, flash floods and even alien visitations have been put forward as causes. The biggest mystery however, was that despite the best efforts of many observers, the stones never appeared to move.

However, in what has been described as the most boring experiment in the world, scientists placed GPS tracking devices on the stones and waited to see what phenomena was responsible for the ghostly tracks.

The mystery as to the cause of the tracks having been solved and the transient ice sheets responsible filmed only one question really remained. Why hadn’t this been seen before?

The answer appears to be partially due to geography. The lake beds concerned are at least an hour from main roads and cross poorly maintained and often hazardous terrain. The visitors to the valley had usually chosen to avoid the worst weather conditions which is precisely when the phenomena can be most easily observed.

However, even then, the distance between the rocks and the introduction of water and/or ice means there is often no available reference point against which to measure the rocks progress. With such incremental movement it’s hardly surprising that a positional change had been missed.

Whereupon, the problem of my friends resistance to recognise progress came back in to sharp focus. Could it be that their progress lacked the available reference points in the same way as the stones did? It is too easy to say they were too close to see the strides they continue to make. However, with this answer at least a strong possibility it did reinforce my role as acting as one of those points of reference.

It also reminded me of a Buddhist commentary on (of all things) glacial erosion. The former Dali Lahma Thubten Gyatso is alleged to commented: ‘If a glacier which has no free will or self-determination can transform mountains, just think what man could achieve’


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