Awesome! [NOT 15/7/22]

Awe at its Purest

Webb Telescope Image of star forming region
Image credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI /

The Root of Awe

Nowadays “awesome” mostly has a positive meaning, and due to Jeff Spicoli, has taken on ironic shading. A decent slice of pizza is now awesome. Which is fine — language changes, new superlatives take over.

In the old timey days, though, “awesome” carried the meaning that “awe inspiring” still has, and awe can refer to something positive (the parting of the Red Sea) or horrifying (Vesuvius burying Pompeii).

Curiously, “awful” now means wretched, but back in the day also meant full of awe.

But enough of this word stuff. Let’s talk about things that inspire awe. And not the ironic hipster jaded Seinfeld stuff — finding a parking space only a half mile from your appointment downtown — but things that are really, truly awe inspiring.

Makes You Tremble

Purer descriptions of awe often have a physical component — your pulse pounds, your jaw opens, your skin tingles. I have read people saying that when they saw the first photos from the Webb Space Telescope that they felt tears in their eyes.

Understandably! Look at this shot of the five galaxies in the “Stephan’s Quintet” which were featured as the talking space blobs in It’s a Wonderful Life.

Stephan's Quintet five galaxies from Webb Space Telescope
Image credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI /

When you think that our own Milky Way galaxy is big beyond our comprehension, and here are five galaxies, and if you look closely there are thousands of galaxies in the background. And this is only a small slice of what is out there. Things like this can shake your world.

What Has Filled You With Awe?

So let’s talk about something that has done this to you, scary, exhilarating, or just too much for words.

For example — one time I was hiking in the Rockies with my kids. About a mile and half or so from the trailhead we turned a corner, and there was a plume of smoke starting to rise. It took me a few seconds to process that this was a very bad thing — we had seen in another place the after effects of a fire that was still raging farther out. We started booking downhill and as we were getting close to the car to hightail it away, ash and lit embers were falling from the sky.

In Farscy-land, I was lucky to see Rembrandt’s The Night Watch, and I remember the experience involving that kind of eye opening, jaw opening, sounds filtering away sense of dislocation you can get — it’s just that massive, that vibrant, and that engaging.

So let’s share experiences that have filled you with genuine awe, and not Spicoli awe. Standing on the edge of an active lava field. Touring a giant cargo ship. Watching a massive controlled explosion bringing down a building. Visiting the Great Pyramids. Hiding from a hurricane. Seeing a whale up close. Missing being hit by a 30 ton tanker truck by a matter of feet. Parachuting from 5,000 feet. Witnessing an avalanche.

Maybe it’s not something dangerous, but being in the middle of a desert at night and seeing every single star in the sky. The first time you looked through a microscope at a flea. Being at a march with a 100,000 people. Or the time I got to hold a 67 million year old Tyrannasaur tooth in my hand, so well preserved you could count the serrations along the edges.

Describe the shaking, the sounds, the experience of your eyes trying to process something too big for your field of vision. That feeling of absolute disbelief that outweighs all of our modernist urges for irony, sarcasm and minimization, and throws your mind for a loop.



    • We did Antelope Canyon, Zion & Bryce Canyon in one trip & that was awesome.  Denali & most of Alaska is beyond amazing.  Kauai’s Napali coast is mind blowing, especially kayaking it over 5 days.

        • The Narrows hike in Zion is crazy beautiful & weird hiking up a river in the water.  We caught Bryce unprepared & didn’t get to hike much since we had 70 degree temps everywhere else but in the 20s with snow there in spring!  I may have to do a post with those pics, I have a bunch.

          • I never made it to Zion, either summer when I was at the Shakespeare festival, but we went up to Bryce a few times, and that section of the country *in general* is simply stunning to be in.


            A couple of *my* Awe-days were out there, tbh!

            Wandering around Cedar on Sundays in the late morning/early afternoons, because it’s STUNNINGLY beautiful–English cottage-gardens all over town, everything from roses, to peony-flowered poppies, lupines, rose of sharon, magnolias, delphinium & larkspur, snapdragons, & geraniums *all* over the place… I gathered SO many seeds, the summers I was out there, and had plants out of those seeds for more than a decade after they were picked😉

            The Awe-inspiring days were both Sundays, because that was the only day of the week we had no shows (Mormon Country, so they just gave everyone the day off, rather than working around the folks who had to be in church/their wards all day)…

            One happened each year–the first, I’d walked out of my apartment to investigate, because I heard this buzzing noise–it was TERRIFYING & loud, so I was worried that there were maybe honeybees swarming to find a new hive.

            What I discovered instead was incredible–the Rose of Sharon tree across the street was being swarmed…

            It looked like HUNDREDS of large, green bugs were flying *all* around it–especially around the flowers…

            Then I realized what the giant “bugs” were🤯🤯😃

            The buzzing i was hearing–that was audible inside our apartment–was the wings of hundreds of Hummingbirds!!!

            Imagine this, but with each blossom feeding a hummingbird or two:

            That tree was VIBRATING with hummers, and it was one of the most AMAZING things I’ve ever seen–and something that no one else saw that day, because they were either still asleep (all the folks in our apartment building who were working in the theater) or in church🙃

            The other awe-filled morning was at the other end of the college’s campus the next summer. The campus the festival was held on was really pretty, with tons of flowers that hardly ever got dead-headed, so you could gather seeds if you knew what you were doing, from about mid-June on.

            I found a large-ish garden that was full of pink geraniums that had *just* set seeds, so I picked/dead-headed a bunch of the brown seed-pods, then sat on the large, flat rock in the middle of the garden.

            The view was spectacular, because this garden was at the top of a hill, so you could see *most* of the western part of the town, and on out, to the red-rock country in the distance…

            Then I looked to my right, and saw the ward church nearby, with alllllllll the cars on the surrounding streets, snd realized that those VERY religious folks were going to be inside the main floor & basement of that ward, all day, *talking* about “God and the gifts he gave to mankind”…

            But because they *were* “Good Mormons,” they’d spend those hours talking about those gifts, and not MARVELING the absolute beauty of them & *appreciating* them, because they had to be inside “proving” that they were good Mormons, “worthy of God’s gifts!”(🙄🙄🙄)

            It was the most amusing & frustrating realization–that if you DID believe in a higher power, *THAT stunning view* would TOTALLY have you believing…

            But that to all the “believers” in that ward, someone like me–who was out *appreciating* the beauty of that morning–would be considered a “Sad, Godless, Heathen”!😉😄😆😂🤣

            • I have Rose of Sharon in my yard, and we’re lucky enough to get hummingbirds, but I’ve never experienced something like that. Just furtive visits to honeysuckle. That must have been incredible.

        • Alaska is magical. I saw the northern lights multiple times on one trip, dancing in the sky.  Watched them on the flight home too, better than any inflight movie.

  1. Southwestern Virginia has me in a nearly endless state of awe.  Every bend of the road seems to reveal something amazing.

    When I lived  in San Luis Obispo, CA, I used to drive to teach classes in Pismo Beach and when I would hit that turn where you crest the hill and the Pacific is laid out in front of you, I would think I’d never find anything so awesome.  I was wrong.

  2. My dogs as they learn not to fear and to expect love. Anytime I go to MOMA, specifically the wall sized irises from Van Gough. Some concerts have been transcendent.

  3. Seeing the ocean does that for me every time. Specifically the idea of the infinitesimal scale of me or any human in the face of that. So like the sea days on a cruise when there’s the big waves and literally nothing visible on the horizon for any direction? I LOVE IT.

    • I get claustrophobic if I can’t see the ocean or a huge lake.  I have never lived more than 10 minutes from a huge body of water & I never want to.

      • I can totally see that!

        I freak out if there are no hills or trees. Flat areas freak me the fuck out. And I don’t need giant trees, but the barren landscapes where it’s just like endless soybean flat fields freaks me out.

      • I FEEL you on this, my fellow Pisces😉😄😆💖

        Except I *can* get by, with it just being a lake/river/pond💞

        But I DO need to see it every day, because–as I learned the first times I tried college (and after flunking out *both* times!🙃), apparently my body & my subconscious measures time by the look & the changes of the water…

        Winter becomes interminable & 100% soul-crushing, if I don’t have the ability to see the changes of the ice, as spring is fiiiiinally approaching! If I can’t see the ice go from silvery-white, to grey-purpley “rotten,” apparently my subconscious starts to think winter is NEVER gonna end… I need to see the silver-to purple-then green-to bluey-grey, to dark, cold open water–cycle happen with my eyes, or I literally get depressed (clinical, need-meds-for-it, depression!).

        But with the *visual* of water nearby, to SEE the changes?

        Minor Seasonal Affective Disorder, especially during the stretch from Thanksgiving to Solstice, if I’m dealing with work hours that have me driving to work before dawn & home after sunset… *but* not clinically-depressed!😉💖

  4. Also, things that are really deep history do that to me. So like when I was 21 I went to Egypt and being in the pyramids and the feeling of being in something built 4500 years ago? Amazing feeling of awe.

    Which was topped a few years later when I had a professor for an anthropology course who one day brought this bag with some stuff wrapped and clunking in it. Prof explained that they had a friend who went to Israel several decades ago and friend asked if prof wanted any souvenirs. Prof jokingly said “yeah, bring me back some Neanderthal tools!” since they were being discovered there.

    Friend actually did bring some back, and gave them to prof a few years later. Which is very unethical but at that point, you can’t do anything with some rando Neanderthal tools purchased who knows where and already with no provenience.

    So anyways, the day I got to hold Neanderthal stone tools that were 50-100k years old really blew most of the neurons up in my brain that day.

  5. Places where my jaw dropped in awe:

    1. Traveling to Florida, seeing Mammoth Caves in KY.

    2. When the Barnes Art Collection came to Toronto

    Seeing all these famous (mostly impressionist) paintings in real life that my mom had in her art books.

    3. The National Air And Space Museum.  Seeing Apollo 11 and the original Enterprise blew my 10 year old mind.

    4. Sitting on the dock of my friend’s cottage at night for the first time and watching the stars slowly appear in the night sky.

    5. Seeing the Rockies for the first time.


  6. once upon a time i worked for novartis…..just as a kitchen bitch

    what filled me with awe….was just how far away their safe evacuation zone was

    i mean…im not sure what they were working with over there (cept agressively mediocre lunches)

    but yeah….it was basically the next town over…..

    really…they could have just posted signs signs if you think anything may go boom…keep fucking running

    • ive kitchen bitched for thales too

      they had a much more reasonable evacuation zone….getting in and out was a lot harder tho….had to take my passport to work

      seriously…im just here to make some crappy lunch…no need to frisk me….i havent yet worked out how to hide a goalkeeper under my coat

      i do kinda want one….you know….for home defense

          • Welll…. I know where *my* relatives came from…

            But you’re still OVER there, with citizenship from where they left-from…😉

            Unless you’re from the branch of the family that went back home?

            I sometimes forget that that first-guy convinced his Parents to come along when he went back to Amsterdam to bring the wifey & kids to the little fort-on-an-island in what would eventually become a MUCH bigger city…

            Annnnnnd after a year or two, they decided that living the life of an “investor”–rather than slumming it frontier-style, in a 250-ish person fort in a hinterland miles away from their beloved city–was a muuuuch better choice!

            (It was the “home protection” and Florida/Texas-sized-ness of that home-defence system that had me wondering if perhaps you might have some hitherto-unknown American genes!😉🤣💖💝)

            • ive always wanted to have an automated turret gun on top of my house

              mostly to shoot anyone delivering blue envelopes (that’d be taxes over here)

              but really…..its not so different here than in the states

              we just dont have 2a

              kinda makes owning guns a pain in the arse as you have to make the effort to get licenced and shit

              (which far as i know involves at least a year of gun club membership and a fair few hours of training before you can even apply….and then the background check might still screw you)

              i feel safe here


              • If you ever made a turret, may I make an Oppo-style modification suggestion?


                You might be able to just *scare* the post-folks away!😉😁🤣

                • awesome suggestion!

                  now the songs stuck in my head tho

                  this is a very important song to me…between child hood fun memories and everything i did since

                  the song is damn near prescient

  7. I’ve mentioned this before – I went to the Galapagos back in the late 90’s. It was a two week trip on an old fishing trawler. There were 11 of us tourists, 4 crew, the Captain and a guide. While we were motoring to one of the islands – I can’t remember which one – the captain spotted a huge pod of sperm whales coming towards us. There were probably 20- 30 of them. They were massive and there were babies with them. They were hauling ass too. The captain stopped the boat and we were just floating in their path. They didn’t change course  – we were afraid they were going to ram us but the captain told us to just watch.

    About a 100 feet from the boat they all dove under us- you could see them under the water. I can’t describe the feeling of knowing that there are a bunch of gigantic beings underneath you. Then they came up about 100 feet on the other side and just kept going. They didn’t even slow down. When the last one surfaced – the capt started the boat and we followed them for a little while – but they were going so fast the capt didn’t want to waste fuel. There are no words for how amazing it was. Awesome doesn’t even cut it.

    • That sounds amazing!  My daughter is doing her study abroad in Ecuador next year & they end up in the Galapagos at the end of the semester.  I’m so excited for her & can’t think of a better place for her studying environmental science.

      • That’s great for your daughter- there are so many amazing animals there. I highly recommend it to anyone. Just make sure you go on a smaller boat – makes the hikes more enjoyable with less people.

        • She will be with her classmates so I would imagine it will be some research vessel but I don’t know the size.  I’ll keep that in mind though for when I go.

  8. Aside from the previously/upthread-mentioned times in southern Utah’s red-rock country, my “moments” have either been theater-related, or nature stuff.

    The theater one was a bit over 20 years ago, when I costumed the play Phantom.

    It’s NOT the Andrew Lloyd Weber play, it’s this one.

    Our Christine, surprisingly enough, was a classically-trained opera singer, who’d moved back home to the Midwest after she got married.

    I couldn’t find *the dress* for “The Ingénue Scene” at the costume-rental place or anywhere ELSE. I was totally stumped. But then I noticed a 1950’s/60’s white lace dress with a broken zipper in the basement of the local costume-rental company, that *if I could alter it* miiiiight just work.

    So I talked to the owner of the rental store, explained that I’d like to let it out as far as possible (it was incredibly tiny!) put in a new zipper & add a blue sash to the waist, then make a fake bow, so it looked like the sash had been tied on–with a drape/train off the bow, to create a sort of “bustled”/late Victorian look.

    Since the dress was currently unwearable, he didn’t have much/any call for late 50’s/early 60’s lace dresses, and he trusted my vision of how that dress could look? The owner let me try… (telling me that he NEVER let the folks renting make any alterations–they were typically ONLY done in-house!😉)

    I let it out, made the sash, bow, & train, got the zipper in, and tried it on our corseted Christine.

    Imo, it looked like it miiiight be *THE DRESS,* because it made our actress look exactly like you would imagine Christine to be–Dark Brunette, with rosy cheeks & lips, sparkling eyes, and a *vision* in creamy-white & cyan-y blue…

    But when I was sitting next to our director in the middle of the House, watching the dress rehearsal?

    That’s when I knew it was THE DRESS!😉

    The scene the dress was for, was Christine’s “Paris Opera” one.

    The lights on the stage were low, *then Christine steps out of the center-stage doors at the top of a staircase, and she descends the stairs, singing her first solo song as “Christine The Opera Singer.”

    As our actress stepped out, and the lights came up on her, she appeared to glow, y’all…

    And then she SANG, and all the hairs on my arms & the back of my neck STOOD on end!**😆😂🤣

    I looked to the right, at my director friend–HER eyes were bugging out of HER head, we BOTH had giant grins, and she had goosebumps too!😆😂🤣🤣🤣

    It was totally *The Dress,* because it made everything our actress was doing come together *perfectly!*

    Irl, she was in her 30’s, but with *that Dress* on, and her hair styled in a Victorian-‘do, with opera-length gloves & heels, she became a 20-something Christine, *glowing* onstage, as she sang her debut.

    It was *everything* combined that made that moment–the dress, hair, & makeup; the blocking of Christine entering Top/Center stage, then practically floating down those steps into *the rest of the scene;* the lighting that made *everything* in that theater fall away, because the ONLY thing you saw, was this angelic vision; and then she SANG–in a building that was originally designed as a Vaudeville house…

    So the acoustics–especially with her mic-ed up?

    Were *Perfection!!!*😉😁🤗

    Theater can be magic sometimes… but THAT sort of moment is *incredibly* rare–even in REALLY good productions.

    I’d experienced it as an audience member a few times–once as a tween, seeing the St Crispin’s Day speech at my first Shakespeare play (Henry V at the old Guthrie), and again when I got to see Pericles, King John, & Henry V (again!) as an adult when I worked those summers in Utah…

    But I never expected to see a moment like *that,* with *that* type of stage magic, in a community-theater play, in “middle-of-nowhere” Minnesota!!!😉😁💫

    **and those hairs STILL do that, when I think about *that moment,* even all these years later!😉

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