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Incremental buildup

Editor Lynn Jaynes Published on 14 November 2015

“Don’t cross your eyes. They’ll get stuck that way.” Your mother said it; my mother said it; every mother everywhere said it. The premise was that one action, repeated over time, could have dire consequences.

Not just actions, but other things built over time have astronomical consequences as well. Consider this: The earth is getting heavier. Cosmic particles about the size of a grain of sand bombard the earth every hour. Is that a big deal?

How much does a grain of sand add to the earth’s weight? Their collective weight adds up to about 40,000 tons per year, as estimated by the gurus who consider these things.

You can demonstrate this for yourself when you’re really, really bored. If you put a big plastic sheet or a white sheet on your grass in the garden on a nice day, leave it for a few hours and then run a magnet over it, you can often find specks that have just fallen from outer space that will stick to the magnet.

(The rest is probably road dust, paw tracks and bird droppings, but not a bad project for kids who are too tightly wound on Thanksgiving Day.)

Why does this matter? Newton’s famous law of gravity tells us that the gravitational force between earth and sun is directly proportional to mass. So if the earth gets heavier, it should feel a stronger pull toward the sun, and we should be heating up as we spiral inward.

Nervous yet? Don’t be. The earth currently weighs about 600 quintillion tons (that’s a six followed by 20 zeros). So a millennium’s worth of sand-sized meteorites amounts to less than one hundred-billionth of a percent of the earth’s total mass. (I pity the mathematician who figured this out.)

And supposing the debris fell uniformly, that would mean that the radius of the earth is growing by about 0.02 nanometers every year, which hardly seems significant.

Another reason not to be nervous is the fact that the earth leaks. It’s a sieve. We lose 1,600 tons of helium and 100,000 tons of hydrogen per year (too light for gravity to hold, so they get lost to space).

So now I’ve spent half this column telling you: First, you might need to worry about something that, second, turns out to be something we don’t have to worry about. But there’s still something worthy of discussion – the process of incremental buildup.

The juxtaposition of something so miniscule (each sand-sized particle) with something so incredibly colossal (their combined weight and potential influence) is fascinating. In essence, isn’t that what we try to teach our children?

That this one little element, action or attitude today (good or bad), when repeated over time, can have such monumental effects on a life?

Gratitude is one of those attributes that can be developed gradually – in essence, one grain at a time. We can learn to appreciate and express gratitude for what is in our backyards, on our back porches, sitting at our own kitchen table or stored in our harvest barns.

We can learn to notice the strengths and talents of others and appreciate them. But it takes practice; the skill has to be learned.

That’s why last January I started a gratitude journal. There’s nothing in it about the weather, work or whether the gutters need cleaning or not (they do, by the way, if you’re free this weekend) – I only include things in this journal that I’m grateful for.

Here’s one entry: “I’m grateful for the folks I have yet to meet who email me and give me updates from their part of the country, how the crops are coming, what issues they’re having and what challenges them. I count them as friends.” You, dear readers, are those “folks.” And I appreciate you.

Can you name one thing you’re grateful for every day this coming year? I hope so. But be careful, your attitude might get stuck that way.  FG

Lynn Jaynes
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