Wednesday, May 30, 2012


My apologies for missing this past weekend; I was traveling. And this is what I saw.

You wouldn't think so, but places look so different from the sky.

When landing for a layover in Chicago yesterday, I was fascinated by the trees like tongues of fire sweeping across an otherwise barren landscape. Looking closer, you notice the tendrils of streams and branches of small rivers running through them. The cities are at the big junctures. Look close enough and you'll see their water source.

Above Seattle, there is just water. It looks like a water city, built on tiny outcroppings of land connected by bridges. Walk in any direction and you find it. The water glints like scales on a dragon until you get closer and start to see the ripples of movement. It goes from glossy green to gray-blue with white caps, all the magic lost to reality.

Vegas is a desert. Everyone knows the city is like a massive oasis in the middle of the driest of dry we are aware of. I always recall stepping out of the airport the first time I went there and feeling the pressure of the heat on my shoulders instead of the sticky humidity of home. When flying over, you see real mountains and dirt hills and ripples of where the wind has carved out the landscape. Suddenly, a line of buildings appears like an army over a hill, and the density doesn't stop until you've passed it over completely.

Tennessee is greener than you might think. Passing over you can barely see Nashville for the giant parks surrounding it. Whereas everywhere you see the circles and squares of crop land, here you see the tips of trees and fields, no particular order, left alone to their original shapes. Over the city, everything is identifiable. The stadium pops up first, giving reference to downtown, midtown, and campus areas. Most places, even home, it is difficult to find something familiar from the sky, but Nashville is simply laid out for you.

Baltimore is a port city. When flying into BWI, you have an ocean to your right the whole time. All of the places where ships made history by landing and claiming for their king, from above, are just parts of the great sea. I'm sure it must be the same on the west coast, but I wouldn't know. The Chesapeake Bay is just one of those arms of the sea, anchoring Maryland to it. If you know the geography, which I don't, you can see the Inner Harbor, the smaller bays, Ocean City. To me, they all look the same. I spend my time identifying cruise ships and fishing boats by their triangular wakes, wondering if anyone I know is out there. The land is built close to the water, tall buildings and townhouses, unafraid of storms and flooding (though perhaps they should be). If we came in by land, as we leave the city, you can see the circle of the beltway, connecting Baltimore and Washington like a bridge between two huge posts. If you glance to the west on a clear day, the river weaves between what we call mountains (those in the actual west would disagree). On an overcast day, it looks like a fog and hulking shadows, a mystery what lies beyond. Unless you know, which I do.

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