[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.
Sensory confusion takes hold as we wonder, are we looking at a fog bank blowing off a ridge line beneath us, or mares’ tails streaming in the troposphere above us? Looking up or looking down…the irrelevance of perspective…whether we are leaves tumbling in a stream or drifting on a breeze, we are part of the scene. The current owns us and our only right is to experience the ride. So as we tumble along our way, forget where your feet are and enjoy the ride.
[A Retrospective] A gentle mist drifts down from the heavens, hidden from the light of day, the falling particles of water vapor change the local temperature in this pocket of the atmosphere…as the heat continues to rise, escaping the earth, adding latent energy within the clouds, vapor and turbulence continue to rise…eventually, as the weight of water becomes too great, our mist turns to rapidly intensifying showers of harder and harder droplets of water…a dangerous torrent of rain, falling upon the landscape, carving out harsh edges and molding the earth in its path…the once lofty plains are eroded and cut as the force of water seeks the sea…when all is settled and the rains have subsided, we are left with a fractured landscape, the underlying beauty revealed along its deep crags and gullies…the power of a few drops of water on display for eternity. Little things matter.
[A Retrospective] As we witness the scene unfold, the trending motion of the weather over the landscape is indisputable…But somewhere in the fluid swirl of memory, we co-opt the forces of nature to satisfy the needs of our narrative…Seeking either drama or solace, the imagined building or dissipating motion of clouds provides fodder for our subconscious creation and our stories are etched in still frames of certainty.
Ever look to the heavens, watching a jet move smoothly through the fluid of our atmosphere, and wonder at the miraculous journey we have made from the daring test flights of a glider in the sand dunes of North Carolina to the routine experience of boarding a jet to take us across the continent at eight miles a minute? I think about this every day…I feel a profound sense of wonder at it all as I sit at my window and watch the earth and clouds roll by…In a little over a hundred years, we have made the impossible dream into a reality that we now unquestioningly accept as routine…When weather causes delays, we grow frustrated and anxious as we are forced by nature to allow our world to slow down. In that deceleration, there are opportunities…to breath, to catch up with old friends we have met along the way, to discuss the important unhurried things, to reflect on where we have been and where we are going, and to wonder at the miracle of it all…and in those moments when the storm dissipates and light again fills the sky, we may forget that our feet are momentarily bound to the earth as we marvel at a jet moving gracefully through a painted sky. So when you find yourself sitting around the airport terminal waiting on the weather, once it has passed, take a breath, look out the window, and take a moment to wonder at the spectacle of it all.
[A Retrospective] When discordant noises dominate the earth, deafening all ears…We seek an escape in the heavens…Rising above the cacophony, the painful din, we reach the space where the noise falls away like forgotten shadows, washed away by the brilliance of the dawn…Here, amid the silence and the deafening light, we listen again and our senses delight.