Thoughts On Faith And Moving Mountains At LAX

LAX. It’s 8am and a surprising number of travelers are already downing beers — something to take the edge off the slaughterhouse-ness of TSA lines and jetways, I guess.

Transpression

Out the big tinted windows of the terminal the San Gabriel Mountains are like apparitions behind the heavy half-smog, half-marine layer haze that’s lounging on the city. Being situated on an east-west axis, the San Gabriels are something of an anomaly as far as California ranges go.

Geologists chalk this deviance up to movement along the San Andreas Fault, which runs along the mountains’ north side. During the last 20 million years, a piece of the Pacific Plate caught on the North American Plate, broke off, rotated clockwise roughly 90 degrees and then experienced transpression, which lifted the block of crust into the sky via intense compressional forces. (Rather different than how the San Andreas is making peaks further east.)

High Above The Peaks

In an hour or so I’ll be soaring above these peaks, hoisted ever higher by two giant, screaming engines whose inner workings I scarcely understand.

We can’t help but rely on the expertise of others, can we? Ours are travels steeped in faith — faith that engineers knew what they were doing, faith our pilots can fight through hangovers and land us safely, faith the principles of aerodynamics established during the last century will hold true forever and ever amen.

All-Pervading Faith

The same goes — speaking more figuratively — for movements of our minds, for mental travels through forests of theories and figments and memories. As we hop from thought to thought, we do so against a cosmic microwave background of assumptions that we trust are valid. I simply don’t have the resources — temporal, intellectual or otherwise — to fact-check every tidbit in my head.

Fact-checking never yields absolute certainty anyway. There is always room for doubt.

But even though I lack intimate familiarity with the research methods of seismology or structural geology, and even though I ultimately can’t prove the logic I employ; my default is to believe and push forward anyway, to build on invisible foundations that seem good enough. I have to see around the next bend, even if there’s only a dead end. I have to get out of Los Angeles and back to New Mexico, even if I perish in a ball of flames trying.

Read More:

  • A View From 40,000 Feet (Farther Still)
  • Geology Of The San Gabriel Mountains, Transverse Ranges Province (USGS)
  • Tectonic History Of The Transverse Ranges (UC Davis)

(Today’s photo is courtesy of my brother, Brian Alford.) 

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