Once the anticipation of arriving wore thin and the in-flight movie began, I settled in to the wait. I pulled out a novel too thick to read anywhere else. I looked out the window. I shifted my weight and tried to not bump the elbow of the person sitting to my right.
The disorder of familiar streets, rutted and potholed roads, are orderly from the air. The stitches are lined-up and straight. But the order of the air is also a kind of disorder—the sprawl of human passions is insignificant when compared to the breadth of the horizon. Not to mention the limitless space overhead. The pattern of the trees and rocks is more timeless then anything we can construct.
I didn’t notice when the dusty Texas high plain replaced the luscious green of the Mississippi river valley. Roads wound like termite trails in wood.
In the 1960s and 70s, Georgia O’Keefe was inspired by an airplane flight to paint a series of paintings depicting the view from the window. Instead of a ceilingless sky that is a blue so deep it has weight enough to fill the crevasses of desert valleys and the spaces in skulls, O’Keefe depicts clouds cobbling the sky. More marshmallow then textured bodies of gaseous water, the clouds are steppingstones to a horizon that is unreachable. She paints a landscape void of any human’s touch.
On the ground, my cast shadow is capable of all kinds of things. It crawls walls, curls into corners, stretches the length of a street, and puddles beneath my feet. It taunts with freedom. But in the air, my shadow (or rather the plane’s shadow) runs itself along the ground, unable to find its way free of the surface upon which it is being cast.
Flying is a separation of feet from ground. From self from a place. In the air, we are nowhere. We are between the Earth and space. In this purgatory we prepare for where we will be, and recover from where we have been. We are insignificant. An airplane ride is the closest most of us will ever be to outer space; to seeing our world to scale.