June 19, 2010
I am sitting in the window seat of Row 24, twenty-seven thousand feet over Montana, or Dakota, or Canada. The clouds below me look less like a sea than a city, tilting away from the plane and disappearing over the horizon. Miles underneath my seat, patchwork fields are laid out in geometrical shapes, Pac-Men the size of soccer fields. Now we skim the surface of the clouds, and they really do look oceanic: some bob through the air like jellyfish, others are strung out like kelp. So strange to be zipping over the surface of this ball, peering down at roads wriggling like arteries through the hills. I really have no idea where we are. Earlier we soared over an archipelago of mountains in just a few minutes. Did anyone notice? No one near me seems to be sweating or breathing hard. The woman next to me turns a page in her Sky Mall magazine.
A river as wide as a town is laid out underneath us. I can just barely see the tiny boats, little white comets, on its surface. The fields that butt up against the river’s sides are square, not round like those in Washington. Fields laid out like a chess board, like tiles. The rows are impossibly orderly; how old are they? How could anyone have set them down so perfectly without careful aim from the vantage point of 30,000 feet?
Inside the plane, my knees are wedged against the seat in front of me. The seat back is slipped with blue like an aquarium theater. I’ve heard blue is the most calming of colors, and it seems to be working: seventy percent of the passengers are sound asleep. In front of me, a young man in his early twenties, short sideburns, handsome-high-school-track-star face, leans back in his chair, eyes closed. One of his earbuds has a knot in the cord.
Ice crystals are starting to form on the outside of the window. On the ground, the green quilt has faded into random brown pixels, splotched with brown as if molding. A sickly river twists like an eel between them. There is simply too much to stuff into my eyes. I look away from the window and let the world spin through my brain.