While a story about a mining disaster might seem to be the opposite of my other writing, its essence is the same: people going into environments where they have to learn the rules of the earth and natural forces in order to survive. What happens when we project our lives into inhuman worlds?

Every day we step outside and we are surrounded by forces we have no effect on. While these forces are obvious in more dangerous situations, they are always there in the world around us.

Kayaking requires us to ride the forces that created our great canyons, water and rock pulled by gravity. Descending inside the earth requires us to contend with different forces, moving through rock, looking for what nature has created. These explorations show what happens when we stretch human endurance, skill, and survival.

Working with unleashed nature sheds light on our human nature, and the more difficult the situation, the more our inner strengths appear.

Whitewater Philosophy considers what nature teaches us in the outdoors, how our skills and judgment must change to live with forces beyond our direct control. In A Darkness Lit by Heroes, we join men who have learned the rules of the underworld, but are caught in an event where forces far beyond them are unleashed. In their fight for survival, we see all the responses humans are capable of, to the greatest and most inspirational.

Doug and friends on the Alsek River, Yukon, heading toward the Lowell Glacier. Photographer: Charlie Munsey

Nature constantly changes above ground…

Nature teaches with her own language, over time working our consciousness with the same hands she uses to slowly rend the mountains. Being filled with our usual human concerns, we seldom think of the life of a mountain or river. But the experiences she creates in us show we are capable of amazing transformations: of flesh woven into living stone, of human awareness into flowing water.

Stopes and ladderways where Men carved out copper ore 3000 feet underground in the Speculator Mine, Butte, MT, 1917. Used by Permission from Butte-Silver Bow Archives, and the World Museum of Mining.

…and Nature changes below ground as well.

Nature teaches with different forces below the surface. She works with rough hands, using rock and gravity, faults and fissures, heat and chemistry. She builds the bedrock of the world. When men enter this underworld, they create a path through its dangers, going where there is no air, rockfall that is unpredictable, and gas seeping from the rock itself. Those who work in such conditions for years are transformed by the knowledge, they understand a world that does not work like the surface world, and learn how to live in an inhuman place.
For millennia people have explored such places inside the earth, and what they have brought up affects all of us. The ages of civilization are defined by the metals we get from the earth: the Stone Age, Copper Age, Bronze, Iron, Steel, and Silicon Age. Metals determine the tools we have, and the forces we can control. Almost everything we do and take for granted in our modern lives, comes from that underworld.

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