The Path Through the Clouds

A few times a year, Sahara sand lands in Germany. Usually, we don’t notice it, but when the sky looks like we live on the desert planet Dune, we will. Dyed in an orange hue more pronounced than what even the most picturesque sunset can produce, this time, we witnessed “blood rain” and “blood snow,” two rare consequences of an event that, locally, only takes place every 10 to 15 years.

People’s first worry was air quality, but in most cases, the dust poses no threat. In fact, Mother Nature gave the sand clouds a purpose: Thousands of years ago, the more frequent dust drops nourished European soils with fresh nutrients, particularly those needed to grow wheat, strawberries, and asparagus.

How about that? Among all the ways the planet could nurture our fields, it chose to stir up a sand storm in the Sahara, lift kernels the size of only 100,000th of a meter up to five kilometers in the air (where they can remain for six months), and then use the wind to send them 3,000 kilometers across the globe to where they’re needed. Nature chose the path through the clouds. In the Amazon and Caribbean, tropical rain forests still receive their nutrients this way today.

When SpaceX’ neighboring companies blocked a proposal to connect all facilities via high-speed, fiber optic connections, a small crew (illegally) hooked up their buildings via a telephone pole overnight. They figured out the permits later. When the Vandenberg Air Force Base wouldn’t welcome them and give them a reasonably close launch window, they went to Kwaj, a tiny, remote island, to conduct their first launches. Most of the equipment was lugged there via Elon Musk’s private jet. When the rocket’s capacitors were found broken on a Saturday night, a team member flew to Minnesota on Sunday to buy spare parts in a hardware store, tested them in California the day after, then returned to Kwaj and restored the electronics within 80 hours. Three problems, all solved via the path through the clouds.

The saying goes “where there’s a will, there’s a way,” but for the way to unfold, there must also be creativity. Nature has it. You have it. Use it. Sometimes, the only way that works will be unusual, but don’t shy away from a detour through the air. The magic of the destination is proportional to the twists and turns in the road we take to get there. Don’t be afraid to take the path through the clouds.