Small droplets of water bead up in the almost non-existent lee of the
outside window molding. When a little too much gathers in one spot, the
500 mile-an-hour wind sends some streaming horizontally across the window,
shepherded into fine strands that turn to spray. We are coming down through
the bottom of the gray gradient that is drizzling rain down onto the city,
and below the plane I can see wind-whipped whitecaps on the harbor. The
magic wasn’t there on this leg. All is vague and wet and gray.
Given the right weather, most commercial flights offer the earthbound
majority of us a glorious insight -- but small jets are best. Takeoffs
and landings equally rich. As the improbable weight of craft and passengers
willfully distances itself from the ground and rises into the clouds,
or later begins the inevitable descent back down in, that moment approaches.
In swift whisps of elusive vapor, the clouds part and yield the most moving
and otherwise inaccessible perspective of the voyage. The stuff of childhood
fantasies of flight.
Takeoffs and landings are deeply imbued with earth and mortality, but
the first moments when you leave the ambiguous cotton whiteness of cloud
for the sculpted magic of cloudscapes are sheer exhilaration. The speed
of your travel is apparent for the only time out of reference to earth,
and the sheer magnitude of sky rendered by clouds’ context and form.
With my nose pressed against the sturdy but blessedly transparent oval,
I reach out with my senses to feel that speed, relishing the sensation
as the pilot banks into my dreams. Canyons flow around me, sheer walls
of billowing water energy building in motion too slow to watch, but seen
just the same.
Vistas are not vast without foreground, and the ramparts of clouds give
the sky beyond grandeur, their own immensity barely comprehensible, the
whole a major mindfuck for those who will see. We will soon enough rise
above this newly found land and look down upon it with a diminishing remove,
so these scant seconds -- at most a minute -- are precious. Don’t
be reading if you have a window seat.
There are no words for the forms around me. Rock cannot negotiate with
gravity to form the shapes I see, so to call these ramparts, walls and
canyons, falls far short. That overhang there of tons of vapor emulates
no overhang below, and the way parts of it dissociate into wisps that
vanish, yet have form, has no geological analog. The glory of that which
is impossible to other elements is in great part the energy of the magic
in which I delight.
So vast are these serenely tumultuous explosions of vapor, these chasms
of white, shot through with views to blue, that they do not whip by as
would at these speeds the walls of the earthly “Grand” Canyon.
This is big stuff. And lots of it. And this rigid skin of painted aluminum,
moments ago just a crowded, lurching confine, suddenly has spirit, seeming
to swoop and flow in a fluid dance with the shapes around us, arrowing
right through them, breaking again into realms of quiet grace, always
a new vision curving open beside me as we speed along.