[A Retrospective] There are “old ways” and there are “old ways”…As we slip along the oldest of ways, driven by winds that buoy our souls and transport us to places of which ancients could only dream, we watch the world beneath us slowly emerge from the shadows. Rivers flow along ancient meandering pathways of falling terrain…the old highways of commerce, superseded by man made railways, highways, and airways. The smoke from power plants along the river carelessly drifts on the morning breeze, dissipating into the atmosphere as if unaware of its diminishing role in the future of energy production…old ways.
[A Retrospective] It’s a simple phenomenon when the air above is warmer than the air below. Ordinarily, it creates layers of weather that we hemstitch in search of smooth, ice-free air…but sometimes, it can create another world where the clouds become sea and landscapes, while mountains become dramatic cloudscapes. These secret worlds created above the earth are our sanctuary. We pass through them inspired, only to descend beneath the overcast into the world that others see, all the while holding onto the sensations of the world we left up there.
[A Retrospective] A balancing act between lightness and darkness, a gravitational equilibrium on display. We express our sense of weight in terms of light. Perhaps it is easier to understand this heaviness we feel within ourselves when we can compare it to something we can see and understand. While the force of gravity has no opposite, the forces exerted upon us do have competitors…objects or ideas radiating with greater gravitas. We are drawn toward the heavens, feeling a lightness in our souls, climbing until, escaping the heavy shadows, we touch the sun. We soar into the light of day and leave our burdens below in the darkness. Our sense of balance restored with perspective.
[A Retrospective] We are here now, in this place, to experience a singular moment…Afterwards, all of this will be sustained by our dreams where the indelibility of memory reunites vanished moments with the reality of the places where we reside. A distinct image, plucked from the ether of imagination, rekindles sensations that have long since passed. We feel that moment again, but it seems hollow and leaves us longing. That moment was solitary and our memories tease us in their elusiveness…as though we are trying to hold a cloud or catch a ray of light, the sensations slip through our fingers and fade into shadows.
[A Retrospective] I constantly hear noise, from the moment that I awaken, to the moment that I fall asleep…dawn breaks and I hear the questioning harrumphs and hawhoofs of my Labrador as she wonders when I will get the hint that she’s ready for a walk…out the door, I hear the buzz of cicadas and the distant wail of a passing train…we hit the trail and in the silence of the wood, the hushed sound of leaves swaying and intermingling with the delicate buffeting of a morning breeze, the intermittent clinking of dog tags, the the ruffle of feathers flushed out of a thicket…In the silent spaces, the humming and ringing of long silent jet engines distract me from the peace of the morning…then there’s music, always music, and the unfortunate cacophony of self modulating reporters and entertainers passing along the latest cause for alarm…In the apparent peace of the air, the roaring sound of friction is deafening as air currents blast, scrape, and buffet the skin of the aircraft…Noise Is Everywhere…Though the sounds are inescapable, projecting ourselves into the quiet cloudscape and landscape that surrounds us, we find a place far above the din and imagine a perfect silence as we float above the earth.
[A Retrospective] It’s a rainy afternoon in Dallas and I watch the flicker of windshield wipers flash across the van’s windshield animating the solid headlights against the dark backdrop of heavily overcast skies…I won’t dwell on my thoughts of how dangerous this part of my day is in contrast to my work…In the bouncing and vibrating bleakness of this moment, my thoughts turn to the sky and I project myself forward into the day to come, imagining the appearance of this patch of earth and its weather shroud from above…bright sunlight illuminating the rhythmic contours of clouds, gently rumbling chop shaking my seat as warm disturbed air rises above the weather. Then, reaching the western mountains where the weather may no longer overcome the rising terrain, I dream of that nexus between heaven and earth…where the two meet, a song floats on the lifting breeze.
[A Retrospective] This season of hurricanes and super-typhoons led me to reflection…The reason is unimportant, it was our assignment and we ventured out, knowing that it wouldn’t be fun. When super-typhoon Bart was setting course for our island, the response was to evacuate the airplanes to safer harbors. Our assigned safe harbor was a little different and required us to fly through the advancing weather in order to reach it. That may make the day’s work sound a little benign…From the moment we entered that clouds, the screaming static on the radios deafened us while Saint Elmo’s Fire brilliantly and erratically streamed from every visible screw and frictious exposed edge of skin around our windscreens. Ice accumulated in great pikes of rime in the slipstream. Wings visibly flapped in response to the shocks of rapidly rising and falling turbulence. The winds built to over a hundred and forty-five knots. Storm cells saturated our radar like narrowly separated frog eggs floating in a murky pond as our radar operator deftly led us through zigging and zagging course changes to avoid the worst of it. The atmosphere was violent, but it merely conveyed the tremorous warning waves of something greater that was building in force hundreds of miles to our south. Suddenly, as if falling into a deep hole, we found ourselves in the clear…the winds abruptly dropped off to zero knots. Two things stand out in my memory…the anxious quizzical looks we exchanged in the cockpit and the solid black wall of churning cloud that we observed on all fronts. We lived in that moment of recoil and relief, knowing that we would be back to work the moment we penetrated the wall on the other side of the clearing. The effect was that a mini cyclone had formed out in front of the known typhoon…super-typhoons can be like this, so massive and energy laden that the spiraling cyclonic forces create their own eddying systems on the periphery of the storm…in their motion and energy, they prove a determining force in the atmosphere…We, too, stir up forces that seem unrelated to us as we move along the way, creating other atmospheres in our wake…the moods and messages that we transmit determine whether we spin off violent storms or soothing summer breezes…whether we foment discontent or share our peace. How we travel along our paths determines the world we create around us.
[A Retrospective] In sharing memories today, as is always the case on this day, the emotions, sounds, and sensations came flooding back as though they were fresh experiences. I remain overwhelmed as I try to express the effect of the resounding silence I felt in the days following September 11, 2001 and I am at a loss…Everything was out of the ordinary…Everything was wrong…I was stuck on the deck in one of the busiest cities on the planet and all I could sense was an eery silence that weighed so heavily on earth and ears that all sound seemed stifled and flat. As I attempt to put this in perspective, I find solace and reason in the clouds…We navigate storms and think little of them as we are protected in our pressurized aluminum and composite capsules, out of touch with the extremes of temperature and torrent…an occasional bump may remind us of the hazards surrounding us, but we quickly return to our complacency…Stripping away that protection, we imagine the tearing sensation of shearing winds, the chaos of colliding air masses, and the rapid freefall of rain. The weight of the world and all of these chaotic and downward forces fall upon us when our layers of physical and emotional protection fall away…and all we can feel is that weight upon us and the chaos around us…a topsy-turvy sensory affectation of our burdened souls…all sounds are dulled, yet our senses are heightened…we move in slow motion, we notice everything from the silence of the birds to absent roars of jets…and these moments are so burned into our memories of this shared trauma that they will never be forgotten…but in the midst of darkness there are always a few rays of light that penetrate and illuminate the storm, providing us hope that the storm is not eternal and the chaos will eventually subside…And this is where we may find solace on the storm.
[A Retrospective] Layer upon layer, the earth cooled and solidified forming a whole…not unlike any process of mankind’s tribal expansion, we expand our bases and grow “our people,” forgetting about how distinct yet alike we are…we exclude those on the outside of our circles and imagine greater kinship with those on the inside…that is until a flood (or inland sea) saturates our world, creating wedges and rifts beneath the surface…again we are distinct…when the waters recede, our rough edges are revealed along our fractures and fissures in sheets of color and texture…beautiful in their dissimilarity, layered harmoniously, their beauty exposed to those who can appreciate that the earth requires diversity to make it whole.
[A Retrospective] Darkness defines our fault lines…In the deep indigo of shadows, the ill-defined abyss holds our spirits and imaginations captive until the light of day may penetrate the depths of darkness…In that moment of illumination, we rise above the petty indignations that bind us to our insecurities and dark divisions…In the light, we realize that we are all part of a single landscape and the shadows, once dividing us, merely define the textures that make us whole.