Friday, May 7, 2010

God Moves in Mysterious Ways

Ice Mask

by Jack Reeves

The only warning--a warning whose gravity is immediately grasped by those familiar with snow-covered mountains--is a muffled wump. Another gravity is the physics that precipitates it: The sound signals a failure of fragile, interconnected natural conditions. The result is awesome, sometimes deadly.

It’s denominated a slab avalanche. A plate of soft snow, amounting perhaps to several acres and several feet thick, suddenly loses its precarious grip on a harder layer of snow and, like water which it is, precipitately seeks a lower level. The situation is compared to a platter sliding off a table.

Within five heartbeats the mass can be traveling 60-80 miles an hour, carrying with it everything in its path. Should one of those things be a human being, one third are killed by rock or tree trauma.

Any possible survival is determined in seconds. Specific action must be taken before the mass’s movement stops and becomes concrete-like, impossible to escape from.

If caught in a slab avalanche, a person should try to swim in the snow flow in order to keep above its roll and undertow. Seconds are all natural laws allow. When the slide stops, it seals the victim in a cocoon, penetrable from within only if the upper layer is thin and if done before the powdery substance sets.

Ninety-five percent of slab avalanches are triggered by the victim or someone in the recreating party. How quickly skiing, snowmobiling, or snowboarding can turn into terror.

Deborah Collins and boyfriend Paul Sawyer are snowboarding in northern Utah. It’s Sunday, 10:32 in the morning; they have a rendezvous with nature’s weighted, waiting conditions.

They’re on a forty-percent slope, mid-range of the thirty-five to forty-five percent prescriptive for slab avalanches. There have been no recent slides in this area.

We don’t know what happened to Paul. We’re privy only to Deborah’s crisis.

She hears Paul shout ‘avalanche!’ a second after she hears the crack of the snow carpet slipping its underpinnings. Instantly, the mountain seems to move; a mighty, mindless substance engulfs her, sweeping and swirling her in its churning field.

Fear shoots like molten lead through her. She flails at the forces, attempting to scream as she’s enveloped in the torrent. Her cry is gagged by snow sucked into her mouth, causing suffocation and infinite fright. Fear of horrid death freezes in her consciousness. In less than ten seconds, this internal hell replaced the external world.

Deborah is upside down, encased, and cannot move. The weight of the snow pushes firmly against her chest, limiting drawing breath. She is clutched by cold, dark silence.

There’s available air in a snow pack, specifically oxygen, enough to live--but only for a few minutes. If rescued within fifteen minutes, ninety percent survive. After forty-five, only eight percent are alive.

But oxygen isn’t the main threat to Deborah’s life. It’s the ice mask that immediately begins to form. That which is keeping her alive--breathing--begins smothering her to death.

A phase change in accord with the laws of physics occurs: the snow over her face, warmed above freezing by exhaled breath, melts. This vapor and water, though, quickly refreeze in the form of a mask--an impermeable barrier over the face that promptly seals off precious air in the snow.

Only half the horror, exhaled carbon dioxide rapidly builds in the ice mask. In increments, the oxygen in her body and the residue in the mask are depleted. With each gasp for breath, more carbon dioxide is exhaled and trapped.

Her rigid body strives to move as terror envelops, but the compressed snow holds her fixed. She gets less and less oxygen as she sucks for air. In less than 30 seconds she can gasp no more; she loses consciousness. Carbon dioxide from respiration asphyxiates her. Her heart continues beating. Then less hard...slower...then only spasmodically...and stops.

How quickly a moment of happiness can become horror, descending into death.

The event was just one of those things that unexpectedly happens. Is it explained as unexplainable, as fate, an act of God, bad luck, the wages of sin, natural law, life, or the benign indifference of the universe?

Physics in process, all agree. Agreeing whether it’s the physics of nature’s laws or God’s laws is more difficult. Either view could concur that Deborah Collins underwent a tragic, horror-filled death.

It’s hard--unthinkable for some--to consider that God, the Being perfect in power, wisdom, and goodness whom men worship as creator and ruler of the universe, could have a moral connection to it. For most, God is absolved, because God must be....


God moves in a mysterious way

His wonders to perform;
He plants his footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.

Behind a frowning providence

He hides a smiling face.

Footsteps-in-the-sea, rides-upon-the-storm moves recall the 226,000-death tsunami.

Was it--and Deborah’s death--a mysterious-way, smiling-face act of God or not?

For most, victims excluded, God is absolved, because God must be absolved.

1 comment:

mythopolis said...

One of the most gripping accounts I have read in a good while. As for God, I guess everybody has their own sense of this. For me, it is simply what we don't know yet about ourselves - individually, and collectively. And heaven would be world peace.