When Mother Nature decides to unleash her fury, there's very little we mortals can do except deal with it.
In the past year, whenever I thought I had seen it all — the destruction, the enormous number of deaths, the sheer wonderment of natural occurrences — something else has happened that has stunned the imagination and reminded us of our human limitations.
There have been wildfires, raging floods, cyclones, tornadoes and, yes, massive earthquakes that shook our senses as they ravaged big cities and small villages.
And just in case none of those disasters captured our attention long enough, a volcano on the wonderland island of Iceland, after being dormant for almost 200 years, erupts, spewing balls of fire, ice and a giant cloud of ash that paralyzed much of European air travel and put on hold plans of people all over the world.
The phenomenon resulted in thousands of travelers being stranded in airports, already struggling airlines losing hundreds of millions of dollars and economies from Kenya to the Caribbean that depend heavily on the export of perishable goods feeling a severe negative effect.
It is said that such a disruption in European travel has not occurred since World War II.
And guess what? All the armies in the world can't do anything about it.
Even the American president, originally scheduled to attend the state funeral Sunday of Poland's president and first lady, who died in a plane crash, was reminded that his powers are limited as Air Force One remained grounded.
Many other world leaders were also prevented from traveling to that service.
Some travelers and the airlines are naturally frustrated that airspace in certain European countries has been closed for so long. Some even accused authorities of being inept and irresponsible for grounding thousands of flights.
They should take that argument up with Mother Nature, not some woman or man in a government bureaucracy.
As I heard one NBC commentator say the other day in repeating what is apparently an adage I'd never heard: It's better to be on the ground wishing you were in the air than to be in the air wishing you were on the ground.
With all of our attempts to tame or predict nature, we often find ourselves caught off guard when "acts of God" defy our comprehension.
We're told that earthquakes have always been common and that more occur each year than we pay attention to because most don't happen where lots of people are affected.
Volcanoes erupt all over the world but often don't create as much havoc as Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull is causing. The fear now is, according to some scientists, that eruption of the much larger Laki volcano on this island of volcanoes (about 130 total) usually follows that of Eyjafjallajokull, according to The Associated Press.
But the people who inhabit this "land of fire and ice" have learned to live with their volatile neighbors over the centuries, just as people worldwide have come to accept the occasional natural catastrophes that afflict them.
In this country, it seems we attempt to challenge nature -- dare it, if you will -- every time we build in flood plains and forests, along the hurricane inviting seashores or on some panoramic cliffs.
We put our trust in our dams and levees, early-warning systems like tornado sirens and modern-day weather radar and the sheer manpower we summon when uncontrollable forces confront us with an intense fierceness.
Most often we can only respond to disaster rather than prevent it. And those human responses to tragedy, such as the recent earthquake in Haiti, can be remarkable occurrences unto themselves. But let us not get too proud of ourselves even when we're able to bring good out of chaos.
Nature will always remind us that as long as we are on this earth we will have to deal with this planet's idiosyncrasies -- its winds and waves, fires and rain, its quakes and eruptions. We must accept its natural order and disorder.
When we start to get a little full of ourselves or place too much importance on our meager accomplishments, remember that a little volcano (whose name most of us can't pronounce) sitting on a little island in the North Atlantic forced us to sit still in total wonderment.
Eyjafjallajokull's huffing and puffing made much of the world wait ... wait on it, and there was nothing any of us could do to stop or alter what it was doing.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Bob Ray Sanders is a columnist and member of the Star-Telegram Editorial Board.