Cumberland Times-News

May 19, 2012

Ordinary things can be the most amazing

Maude McDaniel, Columnist
Cumberland Times-News

— When you live in this world — not that I have any experience in any other one yet — you come across absolutely amazing things that don’t amaze you. Like the sun and the moon, which we live with daily. A week or two ago we absorbed the Super Moon, and before that the spectacular spring trees blossoming away this year, and we didn’t move a muscle. (Well, I did take a special appreciation ride, so I could yell “thank you” out the car windows to each amazing tree I passed.)

But you can’t blame us. We live on an astounding planet, but we get so used to it all that we never get around to seeing how spectacular so much of it is.

First, never forget the usual examples: the Grand Canyon, the Salt Desert, Victoria Falls, volcanoes, Mount Everest, Yellowstone , the Great Barrier Reef — there are actually many more than seven natural wonders of the world, and they all make us shiver.

Or they should.

When I was a small girl I remember being lifted out of my bed in what seemed the middle of the night, to go downstairs and outside to our back yard (in exotic downtown Wheeling, W.Va.) to watch the Northern Lights. They rarely come that far south and it was the rarity no doubt that helped make them so exciting. Still, just the fact of them — their unearthly beauty, their innate excitement! — made me realize even at six or seven how unearthly, how extraordinary they were. Even when everything I noticed was, well, uncommon to me. and therefore wonderful! Don’t think I ever said this before — but, thank you, Mother and Daddy, for not letting me sleep through that out-of-this world experience.

But familiarity seems to breed boredom — which is why I have to mention some things in daily life that are far more interesting in themselves than we give them credit for. You will raise your eyebrows at how petty some of these things are, no doubt — but just let that be a reminder to you to cherish those eyebrows. They aren’t inevitable — when you get old, you won’t have them, or much of them, anymore! Except on your chin, of course.

One startling thing that comes to mind is the body heat of glazed doughnuts. I never cease to marvel how, when I buy a box of those yummy, crackly, sugar-edged doughnuts, then come back to them a day later, they are all soft and mushy, and a little wet. (Doughnut holes are better, and if you leave the box open, they get stale fast enough to harden up nicely.) There are natural laws at work here that I do not understand, so instead I do my best to polish off the doughnuts before the deterioration sets in.

Maybe this is not one of the things one thinks about as a miracle of life, but down in my basement I have a washing machine that is at least 31 years old, and a dryer, somewhat younger but no spring chicken. And they work. Considering the life span of such things these days, I consider that quite astounding — and I am not going to tell you the brands because I don’t think they make them like that any more.

Getting back to the natural mysteries, did you know that every 15 months or so, the International Earth Rotation Service inserts an extra second into the International Clock to bring it into agreement with the actual rate of the rotation speed of the earth? Wouldn’t you think that Nature would do it right? But no — the speed of the earth’s turning keeps changing infinitesimally, so that human nit-pickers have to constantly keep it up-to-snuff. This natural variation is caused by such things as terrestrial wind patterns, tidal forces, and my favorite, unpredictable sloshing in the molten core of the earth itself as the earth turns. (Sort of like global heartburn, I guess.)

Now, don’t you think that human beings would welcome a little imperfection in natural processes occasionally, but no, they have to have everything closer to perfect than nature itself requires. Scientists, being scientists, don’t consider that maybe nature relies a little bit on these occasional irregularities to keep things going, and perhaps someday we will regret forcing nature to be perfect, but that’s for another century to worry about, thank goodness, because we have our own problems.

And mind-boggling things do still happen in everyday life, like, last week when a telephone salesman actually hung up on me.

Our own Bob Doyle tells us that a simple human sneeze can produce wind speeds of 67 miles an hour. There ought to be some way of working that into our transportation system, but it escapes me at the moment.

And here’s another fascinating thing I bet you didn’t know. (I didn’t until last week.) There is no word for “sarcasm” in the Japanese language. That makes it even more surprising that we and the Japanese can even communicate with each other, since, nowadays, in America, there is probably no other approach to wit and wisdom than through sarcasm and irony.

Still another bit of amazing American culture that we don’t notice much: how seamlessly stores can shift from one sale to the next, with nothing (no “normal” prices) in between for contrast. The reason, of course, is that, with all the usual bargains coming up, not a soul with any sense would shop during the “normal” price days. So stores hike up some imaginary “normal” prices at the beginning of the season and and then schedule eternal bargain days at the mall until Christmas, when it all starts over again. And nobody but me finds this, well, at least, puzzling.

Actually, life itself is pretty amazing when you stop and think about it.

But, of course, we never do.

Maude McDaniel is a Cumberland freelance writer. Her column appears on alternate Sundays in the Times-News.