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Airplanes and Construction Equipment

Sometimes the most remarkable things seem commonplace. I mean, when you think about it, jet travel is pretty freaking remarkable. You get in a plane, it defies the gravity of an entire planet by exploiting a loophole with air pressure, and it flies across distances that would take months or years to cross by any means of travel that has been significant for more than a centure or three. You hurtle above the earth at enough speed to kill you instantly should you bump into something, and you can only breathe because someone built you a really good tin can that has seams tight enough to hold in a decent amount of air. Hundreds of millions of man-hours of work and struggle and research, blood, sweat, tears, and lives have gone into the history of air travel, and it has totally revolutionized the face of our planet and societies.

This is an excerpt from Summer Knight by Jim Butcher. It comes from the book’s climax (89% in, according to my Kindle) and is an aside the main character makes in his first-person storytelling.

When I first read it, I had to stop and read through it a few more times. It reminds me of the wonder a child sees in the world, the curiosity that keeps scientists ticking, and my own fascination with the Netflix business envelopes. (They blow my mind with how awesome and efficient they are, by the way.) It reminds me of the little things in life, too, of those days where I pick up my camera, go for a walk, and take pictures of the randomest things.

Days like Wednesday, in fact. UAF is putting a new building in up at West Ridge. It’s in the early stages of development, at the part where they dig a giant hole in the ground. I had some assignments to turn in up there on Wednesday, and found myself watching the giant digging machines work with fascination. When I tore myself away from the fence around the construction site, I noticed a number of interesting temporary signs and decided that I needed to return with my camera and take some pictures. So much for doing homework!

The signs were amazing, as construction signs go. A sign pointing out an alternate route for deliveries to the Bird-Virology Lab had “delivary” misspelled. Some of the other signs were just well-used and badly scratched with lots of things written, painted, or stuck on the back. Or just peeling and dirty.

After working my way back to where the digging was going on, I spent a while watching the construction. A massive claw-bucket scooped up dirt almost from beneath its own treads, working towards filling a dump truck literally to the point where dirt overflowed before the truck would drive off to be replaced by another. The two dump trucks kept switching positions while I pondered why the claw-bucket had the particular texturing it did on the outside. It didn’t seem to be multiple plates put together, though I was at too great a distance to be sure. So why have a texture at all? Does the texture play a part in loosening the dirt? Or is it just for looks? While I pondered, dirt went up and cascaded down so it could be carted around the corner and dumped elsewhere.

Decades of dirt dug up and dumped. Humankind reshaping the face of the planet to suit its own ends. But for all the things we can change, all the ways we can upset the balance of nature, there are forces we simply cannot fight. Tsunami to the face, Japan! Photographs taken of the destruction show the most amazing things. Huge ships beached miles inland. Steel shipping containers tumbled in a huge pile like a giant’s child’s blocks scattered across the terran carpet. I’ve seen videos taken of tsunami waves in action, both from helicopters above as cars failed to escape them and from the ground as ridiculous amounts of water rose in the street and twisted buildings off their foundations.

Word to your mother nature.

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