I flew this week. I don't like to fly. I used to like to fly, but now it's become more of a hassle than anything else. It's not fun anymore. Gone are the pleasantries of flying. No more catering to the customer. I rather felt like a bit of cargo, just along for the ride. The folks in first class, now they were getting the pleasantries - hot food, wine, coffee, pillows, blankets, foot rests, snacks, free WiFi. One hostess to all 16 of them. The rest of us? We got offered one drink on a 6 hour flight. No pillows. No blankets. No movies. Not even anyplace to plug in a set of headphones to listen to music. Headphones I brought along specifically for that. So, it was 6 hours of alternating between reading a book, reading the inflight magazine, and staring absently out the window at clouds.
You can imagine a lot when staring at a field of white, puffy clouds for 6 hours. I kept thinking what a cool world that would be - to be able to drift along on the clouds, peeking through breaks in them at the world below. And I saw something I hadn't seen before - the edge of the clouds. Yes, the edge. Hundreds of miles of white, puffy landscape, vaguely resembling a huge snow field, and then suddenly a low bank and a drop off of some 30,000 feet. It was quite interesting. And a little frightening. I can imagine a cloud mother, hovering over her child: "Don't get near the edge. It's a long way down. Step back! You're giving me heart failure here. Get away from that edge!" Or something like that. Quite dramatic.
I spent a good deal of time trying to figure out where I was in the USA. I know that the plane was diverted further south than anticipated due to the inclement weather across the midwest (read: tornadoes). I saw lots of flat. Lot of flat. And then snow in those flats. And some little towns, their lights shining in the gloom. Course, it was sunny way up where we were. But down there? I could imagine it was cold and wintery, even in mid April. I felt sorry for those folks, looking at their vast fields covered in snow, their roads dry and bare but winding through a bleak landscape. I pictured them bundled up in their coats, breath steaming, feet pounding on the wooden floor, dislodging snow. They were no doubt looking forward to a hot cuppa and a warm fire.
But the place I had just left? Bathed in sunshine, temps in the 80's. Those people were in shorts and tank tops, I'll bet. Sipping cold drinks, and fanning themselves to escape the heat. Flip flops and sunglasses. And just a few hours, by plane, to the west they were pulling on mittens and wool hats to check on the farm. Brrrr.
So, back to the clouds. They were thick, then thin, then thick again. Finally I saw swells on the ground below - mountains? But not my mountains, not the pointed, snow-covered peaks of the Cascade Range. Where were these rolling hills? I had no idea where we were. I checked the map, guessing maybe Wyoming. Certainly these couldn't be the Rockies, could they? I really wanted them to be the Cascades, because that would mean I was almost home. But no, checking the watch showed at least another hour of flight. How many miles was that? Why was the ground moving by so slowly?
Now lights were appearing in the towns so far beneath me. What towns and cities were they? Why was there someone living so far out there? Away from any sizeable city? Long, desolate roads leading to a shining beacon. How many miles away from each other were they? Distance seemed too hard to judge from my lofty perch. Long ribbons of road stretching off into the distance, going where? How long would it take to drive that? I realized that most of us drive the freeways less than 100 miles in any direction on a routine basis. Only on those long road trips of discovery would we venture down one of those black and gray strips that criss-cross the country. They all seemed to sad and empty and lonely. I looked away for a while, back to reading, not wanting to feel the emptiness.
But soon, the Cascades were beneath me. Those glorius peaks, covered in snow, indicating home wasn't far away. A beautiful sunset above the clouds, more and more lights below. Civilization! And my thoughts drift back to the pioneers. What it must have been like to confront those mountains with only wagons and horses and sore feet. Not knowing how treacherous they were, how wide, what was on the other side. Pushing forward, day after day, and finally, finally, reaching the other side and seeing the ocean before them. The end. Home. Sigh. Welcome back.