You have to cross the mountains to get from my house to the city of Charlottesville, a drive that offers some of the best views Virginia has to offer. It’s an easy trip if the weather’s right. When it isn’t, it’s the fog and the snow you have to deal with. And, of course, the falling rocks.
The signs are plentiful at the peak of Afton mountain. Big, diamond-shaped yellow signs with capitalized letters in bold black.
WATCH FOR FALLING ROCKS.
I tell my kids the same story I was told as a child, and that is the signs are not warnings at all. Long ago there was young Indian girl who had fallen in love with a brave named Falling Rocks. The two were to wed, but Falling Rocks disappeared while on a hunting expedition into the mountains. He was never found. The poor Indian girl mourned her loss to the point of death, then finally passed on after a month of unending tears. The legend states that her ghost still roams the mountains here and will not rest until she finds her lost love. Hence the signs along the roads.
So the tale goes. In reality, large amounts of rain and snow have in the past dislodged chunks of rock, sending them tumbling down onto the roads.
I suppose that’s another instance of fact being more mundane than story. But in this case, the facts are no less instructive.
I’ve been driving over that mountain for years, and I’d never seen one instance of either falling rocks or Indians of the same name. But the past week brought snow to my part of the world that was followed by a day or two of warmer temperatures. The combination resulted in a large boulder rolling down the face of a cliff Saturday morning that came to rest along the shoulder of the road I was driving upon.
I was talking about this to an acquaintance of mine this morning, who also happens to be a biology professor. He said it was a common assumption to think that something as solid as a mountain could never break apart and tumble, but it happens all the time. That’s because mountains really aren’t that solid at all. They’re a part of the earth, floating upon tectonic plates and at the mercy of both gravity and the elements. And like all things in motion, sooner or later parts will tumble.
It’s the same with everything, he told me. All of creation is in motion. And since no motion is perpetual, sooner or later that motion will slow and cease. Rocks, earth, sky, even planets. One day, they will all fall down. Then he smiled and said, “What’s important is to heed the signs and proceed with caution.”
True, I think. Because according to my friend the professor, the first rule of biology is this—nothing lasts.
Even us. One day we will all fall down, too.
He thought that was depressing in a way, though he had long resigned himself to the fate of the universe. But I find a strange sort of comfort in the transience of things. I like knowing all the bad won’t always hover over us and that things like despair and sadness aren’t permanent. They’re destined to all fall down, too.
I always liked that story about Falling Rocks and his forlorn bride. My kids like it, too. I’ve even heard my daughter telling the story to her friends as we rode over the mountains one day. But I think from now on whenever I see those signs, I’ll instead be reminded of what my friend the biologist said.
Whether things are good or bad, they won’t always stay this way. They’ll change, just as the mountains and the planets. Just as we. I don’t think there should be any fear in that. Not as long as we heed the signs and proceed with caution.
This post is part of the One Word at a Time blog carnival: Renewal hosted by my friend Peter Pollock. To read more posts about renewal, visit his blog, PeterPollock.com