Finding Time: Exploring the Craters of the Moon
By Peter B. Giles, founder and CEO, The Tech Museum of Innovation
(This is the first in a series of personal essays written by luminaries from the Bay Area. Thank you, Mr. Giles. Enjoy! –Editors).
My daughter was headed to a small college in northeastern Idaho—off the beaten track, as it were. Always alert to ways of saving money as the "Dad", I found that I could get an expensive scheduled maintenance on my high performance car done for half the price in Utah.
So , in the summer of 1997 off we went to Idaho, by way of Utah—my wife Leanne, my two daughters, Sara, a college freshman at 18, and Kimber, an eleven-year-old beginning her first year of middle school in Palo Alto.
Our mechanic said my car would take longer than planned to work on, and offered us a big pickup truck as a loaner to make our trip to Idaho. "You’ll fit right in!" he assured us.
When we arrived in Rexburg, Idaho, we dropped off our daughter, quickly saw the sights, and then heard the sobering, tragic news of the death of Princess Diana on our television set in a small motel. The death of famous and beloved person always disturbs any complacency we may have about life. Suddenly, every relationship becomes more precious. Time becomes an enemy to savoring our fleeting moments with one another, especially family members, and especially on the eve of a transition from a growing up child to a young adult leaving home.
THE LONG, LONELY ROAD
We decided to take our time returning to Utah and see some of the seldom visited sites of Northern Idaho with the highlights promising to be Arco, the first US town to be powered by atomic energy, and Craters of the Moon national monument. As we started down the longest, straightest and most desolate road any of us had ever seen (makes I-5 look like a Manhattan expressway) in our pick-up truck, my Kimber wondered aloud how long, how far, and would there be any tasties along the way?
I, as the dad, was eager to explore and introduce wife and daughter to the wonders that could be discovered on this long, lonely road. What an opportunity! Time to spend together with no distractions, on an accidental vacation no one had planned. I had Kimber start reading to me about upcoming points of interest as we sped down this ribbon of road that seemed to slow down our watches. Coming up first was the first nuclear power plant that provided power to customers. Kimber begged me not to stop.
"What could be interesting there, Dad?" Of course, it looked fascinating to me! Besides, Kimber would be taking chemistry some day, and this would be a "teaching moment," which I quickly explained to her.
We went in the door and saw there a modern antique—something wondrously ahead of its time when it was brought on-line, and now with the obvious hallmarks of faded glory. However, there was a museum of artifacts from the onset of the nuclear age which I escorted Kimber through, pointing out the "ah haa’s" in case she missed them. She was a good sport, but I could see that her attention was waning and that if I wanted to keep her engaged in future teaching moments, it was time to move on.
EXPLAINING NUCLEAR POWER AND MORE
I explained the pros and cons of nuclear power, and how modern civilization had stumbled into a dilemma of innovation by inventing a technology that was an answer to many problems but brought with it an irrational fear of consequences that while unlikely and guarded against, were so terrifying that reason was overcome. Ah, another teaching moment! The perfect unplanned vacation!
We then started anticipating our visit to Craters of the Moon National Monument, further down the straight edge of our road across the flat and homely plain of central Idaho. The name was magical. What would we find? Why hadn’t we ever been there before since it sounded so inviting?
As we arrived we saw sights that we had never seen during our lives on earth. The vista was truly otherworldly, with volcanic residue betraying the ancient emergence of the center of the earth into this desolate plain. There in front of us was a large mound of lava the size of the Lombard Street in San Francisco. We had to ascend to see the lava and volcanic craters—three million acres of lava fields that have been remarkably preserved in this desolation so that the effect is that of a cataclysmic event that happened only months before.
We all three felt the awe of standing on the rim of the creative forces that shaped our world, with the curtain peeled back slightly yet dramatically.
Suddenly our watches, which had been "slowing down" during our long drive, seemed to have actually stopped. We saw that the increments of time we try to conquer and savor in living our lives were indeed miniscule—compared to the millions of years that lay spelled out before our view. Time had new meaning. We were together! Standing on a mound, we could see a hundred miles in every direction, looking down on the pickup truck and the long thin line of a road we had driven.
As we returned to our truck anticipating our upcoming adventures, I understood that time was neither too short nor too long. Time was a gift in the eye of the beholder, to enjoy in glorious awareness of its infinite and yet dividable chunks to conduct the most important business of life—to build and deepen relationships.
As we returned to Utah, we stopped to visit friends from our younger days, heard about how their passage of time had changed their lives, rode horses slowly, quickly, and then circled home to enjoy a meal and conversation—all gifts of time which we could place in the memory banks of our heart.
My car in Utah still wasn’t ready—waiting for parts from the Midwest. Kimber was anxious not to miss her first day of middle school. We thought of flying her home, speeding her to Palo Alto high above another desert at 30,000 feet. She thought this would be a great idea.
Yet, somehow our journey thus far had made me realize that she too would be leaving the nest all too soon, and we decided she would drive home with us, together as a family. We realized a journey across another desert together was too good an opportunity to miss—to savor the passage of time in conversation and wonderment together.
Peter B. Giles and his wife Leanne are now empty nesters. Today, his daughter Kimber is 18 and Sara has graduated from college.
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