Thursday, July 26, 2012

Dunes and Debt

When you look out over Lake Superior, it stretches beyond the horizon. The waves are huge even when the wind is a gentle breeze. It's impossible not to compare it to the ocean, yet it has no tides and whales do not swim within the deeps.

I tried to give Son an idea of the size of this magestic lake, but don't think I succeeded; the scale is just too large.

On the boat tour of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, the tour guide said Lake Superior has 3 quadrillion gallons of water, enough to flood the entire North and South Americas with a foot of water. Can you imagine how much water that is? I can't.

It's like trying to imagine the size of the universe. Carl Sagan tried this way:

“A handful of sand contains about 10,000 grains ... the total number of stars in the universe is greater than all the grains of sand on all the beaches of the planet Earth.”

But how do I even begin to imagine all of those grains of sand? No wonder we tune out when talking about the national debt. A billion, a trillion, what's the big difference? Right?

Try turning seconds into years. One trillion seconds is equal to about 31,000 years. A billion seconds is just 31 years. Whereas a million seconds is about 10 days. It helps to have numbers correspond to experience, doesn't it?

The national debt is $15 trillion. That's about 460,000 years of seconds-- an amount of time beyond my experience or comprehension. No wonder we tune out instead of panicking.

So my mind travels back to the lake, where I climbed a dune the size of a mountain and looked out on seemingly endless blue water. I wonder how many grains of sand are in a sand dune and how many drops of water are in this fresh water sea?