I began my day walking up to the barn, as I usually do, when it's not rainy or cold. As I started up the road, geese, flushed from the fresh-cut corn, erupted, honking and swirling, into the crisp, bright sky. I paused to watch them sort themselves into flocks, falliing into formation, thier vees like compass-points disappearing into the distance.
It is a half-mile stroll to the barn. Uphill.
At that precise moment, there were others, half a world away, gazing with appreciation or wonder or gratitude, at the same sky. Thiry-three miners, trapped beneath rock and earth for an impossibly long time, to them, what could that glimpse of air and atmosphere mean? I cannot imagine.
Years ago, when my mother was living in Arizona, our family visited the copper mine in Bisbee. Tucked between the hills, lorded over by a gleaming, white "B" blazoned on a mountainside, Bisbee bakes beneath the desert sun. Of course, our visit was in August, when the dry heat is not so dry. The copper mine was open for tours. As we awaited our turn to load onto the tram that would pull us deep into the mountain, we picked out well-used sweatshirts and sweaters from a bin. Outside, it was 100 degrees, but in the mine, the temperature could drop to forty. Over our borrowed, slightly moldy and odorific finery, we drew on yellow slickers, and covered our heads with construction helmets fitted with large lights on the brow.
Loaded onto the tram, the descent into the damp dark began. My sister and I pulled our legs in tight- she cringed with a fear of rodents, while I could only dream up the horrible huge insects that would call this place home. Our headlamps were the only illumination, the tunnel narrow as we rolled farther and farther away from the surface. We toured tunnels and caves, turning our lamps of at one point to experience the totality of darkness. Even in the large, carved-out chambers, there was a sense of vulnerability, a hyper-awareness of the immense weight of the mountain above; it was a feeling of isolation, a deep-rooted instincutal fear, being so far from outside.
The tour was an hour at most. Although it was refreshingly cool in the mine, it was an incredible relief to return to the oppressive sunshine.
I cannot imagine spending a work-day in the mine, much less keeping sanity and hope alive for days that turned into weeks. These men were lucky and strong. While those on the surface planned and worked to find a way to free those trapped in the earth, those below had to strive to keep thier sanity and health. Those of us watching from afar, on computer or television screen, who cheer as each man is shuttled to the surface, who watch as the cable winds down and down, preparing to bring up the next, may look to the sky and be thankful for its beauty.
That appreciation, no matter how transitory or short lived-until the bills are due, or it rains for days, or the minutia of civilized life harries or angers us- is an inadvertant gift.
A half-mile. Uphill. On a cool autumn morning, it doesn't seem so far. But it is worlds away.