Monday, September 04, 2017


The plane gathers speed on the runway, lifts and banks, making a deal with gravity. Green rushes by the windows in a blur. Sunlight glints off the wings, trees and houses grow smaller and smaller, roadways stretch long and black, like thick lines drawn with a carpenter’s pencil. Buildings flatten out, lose their three dimensional quality, becoming pop-ups in a child's book.

Go up high enough and things begin to disappear. Cars on the road turn invisible. People on the ground vanish. At 10,000 feet, search as I might, I can see no movement below me, only green forests and brown fields as far as the eye can see. The sky takes on aspects of the sea. Waves of clouds billow and roll creating shorelines with sharp blue edges. Vast expanses of white spread like water all around until it is impossible to tell what is earth and what is sky. When the clouds break, fingers of sunlight reach down to gild lake surfaces or trace river water as it winds its way through the landscape. Our shadow flies below us, an impossibly small, plane-shaped image.

Where there is turbulence, the clouds loom, large, gray-white, and menacing. It seems odd to look at monster cumulus clouds at eye level. They shape themselves to mimic rearing horses, rushing trains, towering cliffs. Even close up, they look substantial, as if they are made of sterner stuff than water vapor. We fly past them and through them, bucking and rocking in the wind.

When I look away from the window the feeling of detachment vanishes. People are reading, sleeping, walking up and down the aisles, talking, eating, drinking—doing much as they would at home, acting as if they didn’t know they were trapped high above the earth in a speeding metal tube. I don’t know anything about them, save that they are traveling from one place to another, and once the plane lands, will all go about their business as if the miracle of flight had not occurred.

I look out the window again. A plane going in the opposite direction sails into view and out again so quickly I wonder if I’ve imagined it. There are no clouds now between my eye and the earth. We are flying along the eastern seaboard, ocean on one hand, land on the other. Boats pull through the water, leaving silvery wakes that glisten in the sunlight. Rivers and their tributaries twist and turn, making patterns like those of ancient cave drawings. I trace them with my eyes, seeing how each one branches in a unique design and yet bears a resemblance to all the rest.

As we near our destination the plane gradually loses altitude, descending in narrowing circles until the runway is in sight. Cars dot the roadways now and buildings loose their flat look, re-emerging as concrete and four-sided. People reappear as ants, scurrying from one place to another. Slowly, slowly, the landscape takes on familiar proportions. The clouds are above our heads again, the earth solid and compact under our feet. The plane brakes, shudders, rattles along the ground and once more we are visible to all except those who fly high above us.