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Wonders of the World

by Lindsay Brownell

February 8,2009

There is nothing as devastating as a computer’s hard drive crashing. I restarted my laptop for a routine software installation, and on startup I was greeted with the infamous “click of death,” sound, signifying that my hard drive had died. After pulling myself together enough to begin thinking rationally again, it was clear to me that I needed to take Legolas (as I affectionately call my laptop) on a pilgrimage to the Holy of Holies, the shrine of Simplicity and Style: the Apple Store at Southpark Mall. While on that fateful journey, I was reminded once again about the many forms of beauty found in both the human and the natural world.

I had spent the fall semester in Costa Rica studying tropical biology and ecology. As I drove from Davidson College down I-77 toward Charlotte, it was strange to pass the familiar roadside sights I hadn’t seen since last May. I had been living in a very different culture for the last three and half months. I had hiked ten miles in one day without seeing any sign of civilization except the narrow path through the forest. I had seen a sea turtle laying her eggs on the beach and been woken up at 5:00 am by bellowing howler monkeys. I became used to going without things that I had grown up taking for granted, and things that I had once considered exotic and fantastic became commonplace.

Coming home to the United States was a shocking experience; I am still amazed to find that every public restroom has toilet paper and soap, and that showers have hot water most of the time. However, I am also newly aware of many aspects of American life that had never seemed worth considering before. Every time I see a light on, I think about the energy used to power it. I consider how many miles my food has traveled to arrive on my plate. I saw all the human development on the way to Charlotte, and disgust welled up within me. I didn’t want to be part of this culture, but I couldn’t escape it. I wanted to use less fossil fuel, yet here I was driving my SUV to a mall to get my energy-powered computer fixed. It seemed like I was doomed to be a hypocrite; always critical of human activity but constantly taking part in it myself.

However, I rounded a certain bend in the highway and was suddenly blinded by the brilliance of the late afternoon sun glinting off the skyscrapers of Charlotte, turning them into towers of flaming, molten glass in the distance. That sight filled me with awe, not dissimilar to what I had felt in Costa Rica upon seeing an enormous kapok tree with a trunk the diameter of a dorm room. This made me realize that humans, for all their flaws, are capable of producing beautiful things that deserve as much attention as the wonders of the natural world. Flowers are as much a feat of engineering, construction and aesthetic beauty as a building like the Bank of America Corporate Center. Just as computers use a series of “switches” in a positive or negative position to run complicated machines, our DNA consists of genes in specific patterns that encode every detail of the human body.

I have come to the conclusion that, rather than cursing me with disillusionment with Western culture, my trip abroad has blessed me with the ability to appreciate beauty in all of its vastness. I feel equally exhilarated climbing a three-stories-tall Ficus tree as I do listening to a Mahler symphony in a historic music hall. While humans have certainly done their fair share of damage to the planet, and that damage needs to be rectified immediately in order to prevent a global catastrophe, we need to celebrate our accomplishments and heritage; things that distinguish us as a species. I doubt that an ape would be devastated if its computer crashed.

And yes, I was able to get a new hard drive for free under warranty; Legolas is back in business.

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