In History, we often study extremes. There are social studies of everyday life (some of which I took at university), but especially in school, we tend to focus on periods of great change and major events. I have to admit to preferring this approach- it’s not that I dislike social history, but I am definitely a political historian (as many previous posts- and my next one- show!)
Just the other night, before falling asleep, we watched a US documentary about the last years of World War Two and the discovery of the Holocaust. My wife hadn’t seen some of the images before, and found these extreme and disturbing scenes really quite shocking.
Now, safe to say, this is the holiday of a lifetime. Sorry if it makes you a bit jealous, but believe me, this won’t be repeated (not unless teachers pay gets dramatically increased!) This last week has been one of real extremes, as we’ve seen some pretty amazing sights.
Having left San Francisco, we headed east towards Yosemite & Lake Tahoe. The lake was beautiful, and also great fun as we hired a speedboat and bounced along the water, something I’ve never done before but will definitely do again! As we then took a major detour, we visited Mariposa Grove where for the first but certainly not the last time this week, I was amazed. The ancient Redwood trees were wider than houses and taller than the statue of liberty!
We then travelled down the highway and into Death Valley. I’m not the biggest fan of heat, and had been a little hesitant in preparing for this part of the trip. But nothing could have prepared me for this extreme environment. We got up early in an attempt to beat the heat but failed miserably. As we toiled in heat of plus 50 degrees, we encountered desert, wilderness and surreal beauty different to anything we’ve ever seen before. We also visited Badwater- a driedup Saltwater lake 282 feet below sea level… quite remarkable!
From Death Valley we travelled to the deserts ‘den of iniquity’ that is Las Vegas. The place is quite the spectacle, but to be honest, it won me over as a really fun place to be. Here the extreme is excess- and it IS extreme, but a show, a helicopter flight, dolphins, tigers and the Belagio fountain display were sights to behold.
And finally, today we visited the Grand Canyon. I can’t explain just how ‘grand’ it is! The size, the colours, the shape… it was an amazing experience, truly wonderful to behold. The extreme vastness & beauty was just ‘wow’.
As a result of all these amazing, ‘once in a lifetime’ vistas and experiences, I’ve had one question circling my mind- why do the extreme’s appeal to us, whether it be in History or Geography? There are no doubt many reasons, but one that has come to mind (to steal slightly from a biblical proverb) is because they take us beyond knowledge and towards wisdom. The awesome power, the amazing consequences, or the shocking effect have a profound impact on us humans- they alter our perceptions, shape our opinions and are truly unforgettable. On a personal note, they stay with us forever, and some, on a much grander scale, become the history that will be studied in the years that follow.