My wife and I recently spent a couple of days on the spectacular Oregon coast, a much-needed getaway/holiday. Late February is normally fine for this sort of thing, given our nice mild winters. But as it is, we barely made it there and back, being tucked between two rather severe winter weather systems involving significant snowfall and wind. However, we did enjoy a fabulously brilliant day on the drive south, plus the next wonderful rainless (though cloudy) day. Sunshine illuminated the recently-fallen snow on heavily-laden branches of both coniferous and deciduous trees. We marvelled at crashing breakers from highway and lighthouse vantage points, walked along vast hard-packed sand beaches at low tide, and explored tide pools encrusted with barnacles and mussels and decorated with sea-anemones and sea stars. We enjoyed a “chance” encounter with TWU students at Cannon Beach, and while visiting a local church found connections with TWU there as well.
When I was little, every tree I drew would be either the classic trunk with a cloud of leaves at the top or the classic Christmas tree. A bird would be drawn like a seagull. That is, trees come in two types, and birds in one type. Simple as that — and quite reductionistic! Life, and the real world at large, is full of much more variety than we (at least I) often imagine it. Now, picture a beach. You’ve got water, some waves and breakers, a stretch of sand, and maybe some grass and trees, and there we are! Well, it has actually been our experience that every single beach in Oregon is unique. We, or some boring creator, might have come up with an ideal beach and made dull copies all over the world. But we have a creative Creator!
And thus to find out about the world, we actually have to go out and see it! God is not bound by some idealized advanced notions to produce certain beings and behaviours in the world, and so we have to leave our armchairs in order to investigate what has been made.
A related thought struck me as Valerie and I walked along a beach near Sand Lake, just south of Cape Lookout. After traversing the (ever-changing) waterline, we hiked along the dune trails. Then on the return trip we ambled along the bottom of the dune cliffs. As we approached, we could make out the cliff’s detailed layering structure, caused by wind and rain. But then something quite unexpected happened: the eye is well designed to detect movement, and we saw tiny rivers of sand flowing down the face of the cliff, and where they went vertical, there were amazing little “sandfalls” cutting across the harder sand layers beneath, not at all unlike Bridal Veil Falls between Chilliwack and Hope, except that instead of water, it was sand. (See my video.)
Now, if I had sat and thought long enough, I suppose I could have predicted that there might have been sandfalls on the cliff face. And we could have said, “Let’s look for sandfalls over there.” (This kind of thing actually does happen from time to time in scientific investigations, but most of us usually find unexpected things.) Instead it was, “Let’s walk along the cliffs and see what we can see.” (Alternatively, we might have planned to just walk along the beach and talk, and not notice anything dramatic; but, you see, we’re both scientists and are still curious!) That is, we planned to discover, but we didn’t plan what we would discover.
And that’s one of the great things about being in science: we’re called to explore this impressive creation!