Flying always reminds me that the US landscape is not the neat, homogenized rows of houses and streets that we imagine in our stories. It’s no an industrial campus either. No, it still resembles a crazy quilt of greens and browns with dashes of white and bindings of grey and blue running through it.
I’ve seen amazing things through airplane windows – fields of spun cotton candy illuminated by the orange of the sunset behind us, lightning crackling on top of a distant cloud as a storm ramps up, barges and transport ships on our wide waterways, the lights of Vegas shining out of the darkness in a rainbow of color, farms in swaths of green and dark soil, a batter hitting a home-run in a little league game.
I’ve been flying all my life. I was an infant on my first flight – a military transport bringing me back to the states. When I was a toddler I could identify plane engines with unerring accuracy. Even today, I am more comfortable on a flight path than not.
The night of September 11th, the absence of planes is what woke me up. The same thing happened when the jets stopped patrolling the DC area.
The posters in my room in elementary school were of rockets and topographical maps. I dreamed of being a pilot and of going to space.
My mom let me go up in a Piper Cub at an air show. it was a small, yellow, fixed-wing plane. The propellers were loud and the door stayed open the whole flight so that I could see out and feel the air as we flew over the Virginia countryside. The pilot and I cheerfully pointed out landmarks to one another. He circled around the baseball diamond and we cheered for a home run. Who cares who was playing. I know now that it was supposed to be no more than a fifteen minute ride, but it was closer to forty-five minutes when I returned with wind-whipped pigtails and a huge smile.
No boring, tethered hot air balloon could compare with that exhilaration.
Even in the huge, modern jets from Boeing and Airbus, I can feel the engines rumble through my seat and the bulkhead. I can recite the safety-spiel for almost all of the variations. (Not the old school Southwest though – those were hilarious. I haven’t gotten a wonderfully sarcastic Southwest spiel in years.) But, no matter how often I board a plane, the flight itself never loses its magic. (Security… let’s not talk about that.)
The strangest thing though – I’m scared of heights. I’ve hung off the side of a mountain in the Alps and cried in relief when I was done.
But I’ve never been scared in a plane. I’ve never been bored staring out of a window thousands of feet up.
Some day I’ll actually be in control as opposed to just along for the ride.
When you see me in a bright red Piper Cub – wave and I’ll waggle my wings.