George Mallory was a paradox. Nothing in his many youthful adventures suggested a natural addiction for altitude. Yet, he spent much of his life trying to get higher. That he failed more often than he succeeded didn't keep him from becoming the second most well-known mountaineer in the early-mid 20th century, Mallory's first paradox.
In the early 1920s, he was a member of the first two British expeditions to Mount Everest. Neither succeeded. The third expedition, in 1924, may or may not have summited. No one will ever know and, in mountaineering circles, it will remain one of those delicious topics endlessly argued about over cups of fortified tea. Did Mallory and his partner, Sandy Irvine, make the summit and die on the way down or did they only come close before whatever stopped them left them lifeless in the uncaring ice for the next 75 years? Whether Mallory was coming or going was his last paradox.
But what he's best known for, more enigma than paradox actually, was likely nothing more than a throwaway line. Asked why he wanted to climb the world's tallest mountain, he famously said, "Because it's there." While on the surface, the answer is about as deep as the generally accepted retort to the question, "Why did the chicken cross the road?" it captured the mystique of mountaineering and, by expansion, the unknowable quality of any intensely personal human endeavour. It was, to most of the 20th century, what "Whatever!" has come to mean in the post-literate world of the 21st.
Had Mallory given the matter some deeper thought he might have explored the real paradox of mountaineering. That delicious, confusing feeling of meaningless omnipotence climbers experience when they've successfully - or unsuccessfully for that matter - drawn on reserves of strength and will to get them to a place requiring more of both than most people ever manage to harness, only to discover, at the apex of their accomplishment, their own insignificance, their own grain of sand on an endless beach quality in the gigantic natural world they've just scaled. It's the reason so many climbers shout into the void from atop their goal: It's a shout only they can hear.
But, as you've probably guessed, this isn't about Mallory or mountaineering.
It's about asphalt. And it's the last words I'll ever write about the damnable stuff. I'm so fookin' tired of hearing about it, arguing about it and watching it open a deep crevasse in this community, I'd gladly trade it for dirt roads and dusty parking lots.
The argument between the small, but vocal, group who want the plant moved at any cost and the mayor and - at least for the time being - majority of council, brings to mind another classic paradox: the irresistible force and the immovable object.