by Atreyee Gupta
Squinting up the underbelly of a towering sixty-five foot (twenty meter) span inside Arches National Park in Utah, I am positive the gargantuan structure has always stood, feet apart, guarding the scrub landscape. I cannot imagine this southwestern corner of the United States without its ageless crimson sandstone features posing as perfect picture windows. The sensuous sedimentary curves attract me, not only with their fiery beauty, but their intransigence. They stand as immutable as stars, fixed points in the rush of history, testament to a steadfast universe. I yearn for such everlasting indestructibility. I am a wanderer who veers towards the reliable as if I were a compass needle and invariability my true north. I fear life’s quicksands, grasping to hold onto the past and the present. Each passing year evanesces while I cling to its insubstantial thread, a tightrope walker dancing with inconstancy. Family members depart, friends go astray, and cities vanish. I leave behind homes, misplace possessions, and lose track of memories. Nothing abides except colossal, immovable configurations like the ones in Arches National Park.
The adamantine nature of the steadfast prominences is only a facade, however. Erosion, I learn, creates our topography. Three hundred million years ago a gleaming sea covered this terrain. Then, in a terrifying plot twist, the ground bent and broke, generating mammoth towers and destroying them in the same breath. Tension, raw power, and heat thrust up domes, turned rock layers on a knife’s edge, and subsided plateaus. Eons removed the softer skins, revealing a magic world of vermillion portals, scarlet fins, and cinnamon bridges. The story is not finished, yet. Inside the sturdy pillars water oozes through cracks, corroding from the interior. Wind and sun work away the durable exterior, intractable in their demolition. The powers that shaped these ponderous convexities continue to pare, trim, and mold. Who knows what this panorama will look like three hundred million years from now?
I consider how the tale of these structures is similar to mine: time weakens both of us, leaving its indelible scars while circumstance configures our fates. Painful as the excoriation is, it has nevertheless constructed incomparable masterpieces out of sand, gravel, and clay. In the same vein, woven along with all that I have forfeited are the exquisite experiences I have gained. The continents I have roamed, the rivers I have crossed, and the friendships I have forged make up the weft to the painful warp of my losses. While clutching at eternity, I remain blind to the grandeur of permutations working within me. I study how proudly the arches rise in spite of their destiny. They are urging me to give up pining for permanence, to embrace my metamorphosis, to celebrate the fleeting moments. What are a few billion years to a rock but the blink of an eyelid? I spy a view of the expansive firmament through one of my stalwart vaults; it is an ephemeral glimpse in time.
At Arches National Park I learn that the essence of nature is flux. Everything changes… everything, give or take a million, billion, trillion years. Standing on the other side of a geological picture frame, I, too, cannot escape this lesson. I have changed, am changing, will change, pared and trimmed and molded in the same way by impetus beyond my control. The forces that alter me take many shapes. Like the wind, the sun, and the rain, circumstances, situations, and time itself continues to modify my character, to rebuild me into the person I am today and will grow into in the future. Somewhere along the way we are told that at a certain point in our lives we stop developing, become adults. Studying the exquisitely formed curvature before me, its history of erosion written in its gouged sides and scraped foundations, I cannot agree. I am, like this arch, slowly though inescapably eroding. Yet, in the meantime, I am evolving into a robust and hardy personality, as unique as a single vault, formed in my own way by life. There is a lot more story in the science of change than there is in permanence. I shall stand here before this sandstone instability proud that before the next blink of an eyelid I, too, can share in its epic struggles.
Atreyee Gupta is a writer who examines the transformative power of travel through creative storytelling. She enjoys combining the worlds of science, history, and philosophy into her narratives. Her work can be seen at Bespoke Traveler.