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Monday, August 29, 2011

The Mountain Cannot Bow To It

I've always been drawn to mountains.  As a kid I lived in western Washington and could see Mt. Rainier in the distance on any clear day.  It was always stunning, and awesome.  As a geologist, I've spent my professional time studying the tectonic and geochemical processes involved when mountains are built up and eroded back down.  Obviously geoscientists have a thing for mountains; they are fantastic and reveal their secrets only after copious amounts of time in the field and lab.

Beyond the scientific interest, however, it seems that mountains have always held an allure to people.  People have found ways to relate them to their lives.  So in this post, I'm taking a step away from the science and even the just fun geoscience related stuff to write something a bit more from a literary, life, and character standpoint.  References to mountains pervade our culture (speaking as an English-speaking white person from a wealthy western nation), and not just ours but also the cultures of many people groups throughout geography and history, space and time.  Mountains are often used as literary references for various principles in life.  Things we love, admire, respect, and fear.  Things we must overcome, or things that might protect us, or perhaps things that might bring terror down upon us.

One of my favorite references to mountains comes from the Disney movie 'Mulan'.  In one critical scene of the story, there's this fantastic 'kneel before zod' movie moment, where the antagonist warrior Shan-Yu orders the Emperor of China, "Bow to me!".  The Emperor holds his cool, and in strength-of-the-man-of-steel fashion calmly replies:  

"No matter how the wind howls, the mountain cannot bow to it."  

I love the emperor's clarity, tenacity, and boldness.  It's one of those story moments where, although he clearly does not possess the physical strength to overcome the snarling warrior, nonetheless he possesses a strength of character that somehow makes up for the gross difference in physical power.  Here, the mountain represents strength, endurance, and steadfastness in the face of the threat.  Life is full of people who howl like some awful bag of wind, crying to us that we bend to their demands.  You see, if you're a tree, you may stand up to the wind, you may not.  You may end up getting blown over when some wind-bag suggests you compromise your ethics so whatever-it-is on the job-site will have an easier go, never-mind the risks or who might get hurt.  But if you're a mountain, well, you simply can't.