Have you ever heard the story about Carl Sagan and the “pale blue dot”?
Legendary astrophysicist, Carl Sagan, wrote in his book Pale Blue Dot about an image he suggested astronomer’s took of Earth as the spacecraft “Voyager I” left our solar system in 1990. The image isn’t much - it’s mostly just a grainy, black-grey picture with a white speck in the middle. But that speck is Earth. We’re really, really small. We’re just a “pale blue dot,” Sagan says.
Sagan goes on to describe how this one image, this one little speck, threw human existence into relief for him. He never saw Earth the same again. Despite how big, powerful, smart, or rich we think we are - we are actually really, really small. Seemingly inconsequential.
When I stepped foot into the Lauterbrunnen Valley, that is how I felt. Really, really small. Seemingly inconsequential. In comparison to these peaks, just a speck.
Sagan continues in his “Pale Blue Dot” writings:
I had been overwhelmed by the size of the Alps in the Dolomites, but the Lauterbrunnen Valley - with the Monch, Eiger, and Jungfrau peaks standing mightily overhead - brought me to my knees. Literally. I got off the cable car in Grütschalp and had to sit down. I kept saying to Spencer, “why isn’t everyone just falling to their knees in awe?” I was shocked at how calm everyone seemed to be. I wanted to cry. Never, ever before have I felt so small, and so impressed by the majesty of something so massive and beautiful.
In fact, I was reminded of my time growing up in the church. During a particularly charismatic worship service, when I felt transcendence and close to God, my hands outstretched, my cheeks wet with tears over the impressions of divine love I felt on my heart - I had this feeling again when I looked upon these peaks.
We started off on our hike from Grütschalp to Mürren, and the weather couldn’t have been more perfect. I knew that if I just started walking, eventually I’d calm down. Though it took longer than I expected, eventually I found my breath and bearings again, and was able to admire the view without wanting to fall to my knees in tears. And our walk together was wonderful. The path wasn’t steep, it was generally quiet with only a few passerby’s now and then, and we were able to really catch up and connect after a week or so of intense, busy travel.
One of the things I love most about Spencer is that he really understands and shares my love for learning, and when I brought up Carl Sagan’s “Pale Blue Dot,” he knew exactly what we were talking about. On the hike to Mürren, we talked all about the scope universe, astrophysics, and God.
But our deep conversations about the meaning of life were interrupted by the sound of cow bells. Though they started out faint, eventually, as we kept walking, they grew louder and louder - until a large herd of cows emerged as we turned a corner. They were clearly on their way to dinner, walking with a purpose as a group towards what seemed to them to be a delicious patch of grass - right in the middle of the path we were on.
I had recently read a passage in a book by Bill Bryson, in which he talks about how English hikers were getting killed by stampeding cows. Though it was a funny read when I received the book at Christmas, and read it aloud, tears in my eyes, to my family around the Christmas tree…. now we were faced with a similar situation. I laughed, nervously, thinking to myself, “The mountains aren’t going to kill me. It’s going to be these damn cows!”
We had no choice, though, but to keep going. We slowly approached the herd, and started walking between them. I had Spencer’s shirt clutched into my hand as we made our way to the other side. Despite our fears, the cows didn’t even notice us. They just kept chewing away. We hurried to the other side, and bust out laughing as we emerged from what had felt like certain death. Just that day, at lunch, our fellow tour member, Pat, asked us what the craziest thing we’d ever done was. Now, I would answer, “WALKING THROUGH A HERD OF COWS IN LAUTERBRUNNEN!”
Once we got to Mürren, we found a restaurant overlooking the mountain range, and had the most delicious meal we’ve had on this trip - I think it’s arguably the best meal we’ve ever had in Europe!
I will never, ever forgot this hike. The cows. The views. The pale blue dot.