January 16, 2009
The Parable of the Great Inversion
Are you familiar with the phenomenon of a weather inversion? Here in the Northwest it seems to happen several times each winter.
A high pressure system moves in and parks over Washington State, shutting down the rain for several days. Cold air becomes trapped at sea level and in the valleys, and often fog or low clouds hang over the lowlands. The temperature might be a damp 35 degrees at lower elevations, without a glimpse of the sun. Thoughts of spring weather tease the mind. But that’s a long way off. Right now it’s just clammy, cold and dark.
Or no, wait a minute. Have faith. Maybe this is an inversion! Take off up a mountain trail (Tiger Mountain, in my case) in search of spring. Crazy? No, not at all. Keep climbing. At 1,000 feet in elevation it’s still foggy and cold, and you’re pelted by bits of ice as the frozen fog begins to melt off the Douglas Firs high overhead. At 1,200 feet it looks like the sun might be burning through. At 1,400 feet we break free from the clouds. It’s warming up! By 1,800 feet it’s in the 50s, and in the sunshine it feels like spring. The sky is blue and you can see forever across a sea of clouds. At 2,400 feet it’s in the 60s. It’s even reported that at Paradise, at 5,400 feet on Mt. Rainier (covered with the deep snows of winter), it’s 70 degrees on January 14! The general rule of thumb—3 degrees cooler for every 1,000-foot gain—is out the window.
Sometimes the change from cold to warm is sudden and dramatic. Last year during an inversion, I was running up a trail on Tiger Mountain and the temperature radically increased within just a few feet of elevation. It was if there was a bright red line of demarcation drawn in the atmosphere. But most people don’t seem to know this secret. The trail up the mountain has less traffic than usual. After all, if you look out the window, it looks like a lousy day for going up the mountain. You’ll just be in the fog. Won’t see a thing.
My point isn’t just to note a meteorological curiosity. Rather, sometimes blessings and opportunities are all around us—within reach, in fact. Sometimes we just need to defy conventional wisdom and get out and find them. Even when all we can perceive are dismal circumstances. Not always, of course. But nature can be a parable of grace. And in this case we might also be reminded that ultimately, beyond the fog of life’s slings and arrows, there is a sure hope apokeimenen hymin en tois ouranois (“laid up for you in the heavenlies” [Col 1:5])!
Let the one who has ears to hear, hear.