In the Critique of Judgement Immanuel Kant lays out the parameters of what he considers the sublime. Essentially he says that sublimity does not reside in the object that we perceive, but rather within the mind of the human who perceives the object. This is because the things that inspire sensations of sublimity – like the experience of a hurricane or volcano – have the power to crush us, but, at the same time, we derive aesthetic pleasure from the experience because as humans we have the ability to reason away the horror and appreciate the beauty of that which is capable of utterly destroying us.
Such experiences, according to Kant, “raise the forces of the soul above the height of vulgar commonplace,” to discover within us “a power of resistance of quite another kind, which gives us the courage to be able to measure ourselves against the seeming omnipotence of nature.”
Which in really basic terms means: we kind of like that feeling of realizing that Mother Nature can be a terribly dangerous but beautiful beast who we’re powerless against.
With this in mind, here are seven ways to venture into Nature’s sublime, and how and where to do so (at your own risk).
However, this experience is only possible if you control your fear to stand unshakingly before the phenomenon, resisting the urge to flee. The results in fear mixed with a sense of awe that borders on the religious.
The best way to encounter a tornado close up is to visit states in “Tornado Alley,” such as Oklahoma and Kansas, from late March to August. If you have an advanced knowledge of meteorology, a fast, reliable, sturdy vehicle, and don’t care much about whether or not you (or your trusty pick-up) see tomorrow, then you may be able to “storm chase” on your own. Otherwise stick to agencies like Storm Chasing Adventure Tours.
The thundering violence of powerful falls arouses the feeling of sublimity because it reminds us how small and fragile we are and stirs the mind to think of what such an incredible force could do to anyone unlucky enough to tumble over the edge. One place to do this is Victoria Falls. At over 1600 metres wide and some 100 metres high, it’s the largest curtain of water in the world, but seeing it in photos can’t compare to experiencing it in person.
Perhaps this is what makes swimming in the Devil’s Pool so appealing. This natural pool near the edge of Victoria Falls has a rock wall just below the water’s surface. This allows people to swim safely in the pool at the edge without the danger of going over (so long as the water level is low enough). The quest of the sublime experience of a waterfall may also be behind attempts to go over falls like Niagara, a feat you’d not likely survive at Victoria.
Volcanoes have the power to obliterate entire civilizations, to vomit explosions of debris 32 kilometers into the sky and blanket the entire planet with a cloud of ash so thick as to block out the sun and cast most species on this planet into extinction.
Volcanoes are horrifying and watching one erupt leaves one speechless. It is impossible to feel anything but trifling when confronted with the juggernautic might of such a phenomenon. But if you can bear nearing one until you are a close but secure distance away from its fury, the sense of awe at nature’s fury is worth the nerves and stress. Huge, active volcanoes one is able to visit – and even walk upon – include Mount Etna in Italy and Eyjafjallajokull in Iceland. In Hawaii, you can also watch the fiery orange show of hot lava plunging into the sea.
Witnessing an event of immense power creates the sublime by recognition of the potential injury that could be caused by such force, even if the threat never manages to materialize. The sheer, destructive force avalanches makes viewers recognize the potential for pain, even if the fear itself is not present.
Avalanches are difficult to predict and being buried under 300 tons of snow is a probably not a risk worth taking. Luckily for thrill-seekers, park rangers often set off controlled avalanches via dynamite in the vicinity of major ski resorts to release tension in the piles of snow so that natural avalanches don’t occur and kill skiers. These are usually scheduled for early in the morning or late at night, but check with park authorities to find out when one will be set off, and where you can safely see it from afar.
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Hurricanes leave entire countries devastated in their wake. Although you might be a little crazy to want to experience one, at least you won’t be paying peak season flight and resort fees and you’re likely to have the beach to yourself.
Hurricanes overwhelm the senses with their frightening elemental force, but if you are able to swallow your fear and stand upright in the open as furious winds throw debris and water at you while simultaneously trying to heave you up and out into the sea, then a feeling of the sublime will settle over you just before you’re lost or worse at sea.
There’s no shortage of locations to experience a hurricane, particularly from June to November during the Caribbean hurricane season, but if you’re interested in living to see the sublime another day, we suggest simply using your imagination, watching a documentary, or using the storm simulator at your local Science Center.
If you must visit a hurricane-prone area during storm season, travel insurance is a worthwhile investment
Storm at sea
Of all the things listed here, a storm at sea is probably the simplest, and potentially the most dangerous natural disaster, to experience first-hand. You’ll need three things: a seaworthy boat, a wise captain and a large body of water (preferably an ocean or a sea). Whether you’re on a Caribbean cruise or chartering a boat through the Thai islands, the storms will come, don’t worry.
It’s important that the boat not be too small or the storm too big because if the real threat of drowning kicks in then sublimity is gone (which is probably not what you’ll be worried about when you’re trying not to drown). The sublime is linked to death, but only in as much as one can bask in the fury of that which could annihilate you, but won’t. Being adrift on a lone schooner among horizons of water and a black sky as the sea hurls you around like a toy is one of the best ways to experience this; being alone on a sinking schooner is not. The wise captain mentioned above? He’s key to surviving this endeavor, so choose carefully.
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The open ocean, with its depths and dangers, is a common place to feel the power of nature and our helplessness against it. Closer to shore, another way to get that same feeling is to watch massive waves break at places such as Waimea Bay, Hawaii, where 30 to 50 ft. waves – as tall as four-storey buildings – are not uncommon.
Although you can still receive the sublime sensation by watching these huge roaring mouths of water breaking out at sea or against the shore, for the ultimate sublime experience you must be a little closer, inside the waves, on a surfboard, feeling it collapse all around you. Of course, it may take some time to work up to surfing such a giant wave; for beginners, something a little smaller may have to do.
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Read more about dangerous experiences you may find worth the risk:
- 10 Dangerous Destinations
- Biking the Most Dangerous Road in the World
- The World’s Most Dangerous Animals, and Where to See Them in the Wild
Photos Credits: Shutterstock.com, Dietmar Temps /Shutterstock.com, Minerva Studio /Shutterstock.com, 2630ben /Shutterstock.com, Claudio Rossol /Shutterstock.com, Lysogor Roman /Shutterstock.com, zstock /Shutterstock.com, Nightman1965.