May 27, 2009

On Majestic Vistas and Human Insignificance

Pictured on your left is Cabo da Roca ("Cape of the Rock"), a geological formation that serves as the westernmost point of both continental Europe and the nation of Portugal. Before my trip to Europe last year, this was one of the few places I considered to be a must-see, as I have always been drawn toward such points of no return.

By the way: my wife took this image with her pocket-sized digital camera, and it far surpassed any of the pictures I took with my more professional Kodak.

I stood at Cabo da Roca for at least 30 minutes, feeling the alternating wind patterns and watching the waves crash below. Certainly I stood aware that writers dating back to the Roman era recorded their thoughts at the place onde a terra acaba e o mar começa ("where the land ends and the sea begins"), and yet I might as well have been the first person to ever set foot there, at least in comparison with the history of the planet.

The surrounding mountains, escarpments, and cliffs served notice that my presence produced infinitesimal effects on the region, lands that date back relatively unchanged for hundreds of thousands of years (literal interpreters of the Bible: cover eyes now). Had I decided to defile the natural beauty of the place by etching my name into a piece of Cabo da Roca, I would have been lucky for such a carving to last five thousand years; this is merely a blip in the history of the place.

It is good that we visit places like this, if for no other reason than to reduce our own human arrogance.

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