Nature loves a hexagon

Devils Postpile National Monument. It’s hot and shadeless here, all scrub and sunshine, so it seems natural to spot three Burners taking a walk en route to Burning Man, basking in the rays. They’re easy to peg: lacy, ragged, multicolored clothes, taut tanned skin, murmuring about the Playa, Havasupai, Bali and other hip destinations. I take a photo for them as they swing from the National Monument sign. I suppose it would be weird to take a photo with my phone too. They are so colorful and happy, I would love to record it.

I’m a tourist for a day too. There’s a lot to see: Upper and Lower Rainbow Falls (named for the prismatic effects of the spray), Minaret Falls (less aptly named, it is completely dry at present), and the Devils Postpile itself:

Whee, cooling lava!
Whee, cooling lava!

Soap bubbles, honeycombs, even the cloud swirling around the north pole of Saturn: nature loves a hexagon. A six-sided polygon tesselates, meaning no wasted space, and compared with the triangle and square, it yields more area (for packing full of honey, say?) with less perimeter. It is also the shape of the basalt columns of Devils Postpile National Monument, where a lava lake, dammed by a glacier, cooled in the simplest way it found possible: long tubular hexagons.

Eroding from earthquakes, freeze/thaw cycles, and glacial action... see it now!
Eroding from earthquakes, freeze/thaw cycles, and glacial action… see it now!

I like to believe that Mama Nature doesn’t choose hexagons for efficiency alone. The arrays are beautiful and unexpected. Walking on the top of the monument is like dancing on a natural keyboard. Wouldn’t it be fun to be a tree improbably growing between the tesserae?

Mosaic atop the Postpile
Mosaic atop the Postpile

I geek out at interpretive signs explaining the gadgetry at the ranger station, a valuable weather observation point measuring a thousand variables, including snowpack in a habitat where summer lasts only two months. This tells us what kind of flow (or lack of) to expect in rivers hundreds of miles away, how scrimpy people and animals and industry will be in the coming season.

Weatherbot says: Take me to your meter
Weatherbot says: Take me to your meter

And I taste my first Sierra gooseberry, which comes in a wickedly spiked package: it looks as alien as the weather robot. It hurts to pluck a fat ribes roezlii berry off the bush – that name must be onomatopoeic, because that’s roughly what I mutter while trying. To unlock the sweet pulp inside, I squish it under a dubiously clean sneaker, but it’s worthwhile for aesthetics alone.

Sierra gooseberry, pre-attack
Sierra gooseberry, pre-attack

Design is the name of the game today. There’s also charred wood, falling water, twisted trunks, and red volcanic cones made of swiss-cheese pumice. What boundless creativity. Nature may love a hexagon, but she also dreams a spiky sphere, an airy rock, an orange bubbling spring, and even a plain old s-curve river. Well done, original architect!

The spray blows my kerchief into Kewpie Doll formation: nature is such a punk
Nature sprays my kerchief into the rare Kewpie Doll formation.

 

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