A View From 40,000 Feet

Another morning flight out of Albuquerque. Low clouds like yesterday, and it takes only a minute of jet blast to be up and out of them, into radiant sun. From cruising altitude, the tufts of vapor are albino beasts slowly roaming the frozen land below, grazing maybe.

West Instead Of East

It’s nice to fly west instead of east. Today the destination is Los Angeles (family trip with my parents, brother and sister), which means I’ll be treated to an eagle eye’s view of some of the most amazing terrain the southwest has to offer. Places like the the Plains of San Augustin and Gallup and Sedona and the Mojave.

Topology is especially pronounced after a night of snow. Cliffs are more obvious, standing out as dark bands encircling white mesa tops. Even more striking are the streams and rills and rivers and alluvial fans netting all those square miles of forest and desert with endlessly branching veins and arteries.

Gravity and water: these are the sculptors — the humblers — of uplifted lands.

Always For Flatness

Looking out my little porthole from 40,000 feet, I’m reminded the surface of Earth strives always for flatness.

Sure, a subducting plate may cause a ripple here and there, but in time even the loftiest crown of stone will find its way to the sea, having been battered and broken into a million grains of sand. Yes, in the fullness of time, this will all be Nebraska.

What a gift to live now, when the valleys are still valleys and when so many vantages are possible — so many ways of knowing a country. Hiking, climbing, flying, driving: each reveals a different dimension of the world. Each produces a different mental map — a map that informs the other maps and vice versa.

Too Much To Know

This view from my porthole also reminds me how big even just the Colorado Plateau is. Were I able to trek tirelessly twenty-four hours a day for the rest of my life, I’d still barely scratch the surface of what it has to offer. Same goes for the Gila Wilderness, or the Uinta Mountains, or the History and Philosophy of Microphysics.

It seems there’ll always far more out there in the universe hidden from us than will be revealed. How should we respond to this fact? Do we despair? Do we prostrate ourselves in deepest reverence? Do we laugh our brains out at the scope of our surroundings and try to grasp all we can anyway?

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(Today’s photo, which is not of the American Southwest, is courtesy of Natalie Rae Good.)

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