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Man & Mountains

Posted Oct 15 2010 12:00am
Having evolved in the shadow of Kilimanjaro, man has long been enchanted with mountains. We, and perhaps our immediate hominid predecessors, were the first species to appreciate the significance of these highlands, understanding both the travel difficulties that they impose and the multiple benefits that they offer; for early man, the latter included food sources, water, shelter and defense from hostile tribes and predators. Of course, the peaks themselves, reaching toward the stars and into the clouds, were often infused with mystical significance, the home of the gods, both good and evil.

Today, we have a better understanding of these landforms but are no less inspired by their presence. Offering both an escape from summer heat and a playground for winter sports, they are also a destination for hikers, climbers, hunters and naturalists. Indeed, for the naturalist, they offer a variety of life zones within a short distance, yielding a spectacular diversity of fauna and flora.

Essential elements of any scenic landscape, mountains are appreciated for their beauty and their grandeur, the ultimate symbols of permanence and stability. But, as students of natural history know, they are just as vulnerable to the forces of nature as any other landform. They, too, are transient features of the landscape, destined to be flattened by the erosive power of wind, water and ice; their summits will yield beach sand and their slopes will enrich the plains. Fortunately, for the descendants of humans, other mountains will rise as tectonic plates collide and subduct; these, too, will catch the first light of dawn and inspire those beings to climb toward the sky.
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