I am on the morning plane (06:10, no less) from Boston to San Francisco (where I will continue to Shanghai.) One of the nice things about this trip is that the sun comes in from the back of the plane gradually catching up, since the plane is slower than the earth’s rotation. This means that all landscape features are lit so they come out in bas-relief, making every wrinkle and crevice stand out, when not obscured by clouds. The angle of the sun actually interplays with the landscape – on the east coast and past the great lakes, the sun is low and serves to illuminate the modest undulations of the plains, but as we come over towards the more mountainous areas the light reaches a little further down in the valleys.
And what a spectacle it is.
I have never understood those who take aisle seats on flights across the US – the landscape is infinitely more interesting than any neutered in-flight movie or vapid magazine the inside of the airplane can offer. The roads and cities of the east, factories and irrigation circles of the mid-west and increasingly dramatic mountains of the west rolls out like a long and harmoniously unfolding symphony, complete with the dramatic crescendo of the Rockies (and, if luck may be, the Yosemite) and the restful and glittering finale of the Pacific. Along the way id an endless array of meandering rivers, towns next to dams (suitable for morbid speculation on the nature of American infrastructure investments,) intricate patchworks of agriculture and suburban sprawl, ruler-straight roads over desert plains, and strip mine pockmarks. Occasionally, a meeting airplanes will streak across the window, trailing condensation smoke and making you realize just how fast you are going.
I keep thinking that some day it would be fun to drive across all this, to have time to take it in and fully understand the vastness of the distances and the variety of landscapes (and relative sameness of the signs of human habitation) along the way. As it is, I will have to settle for high-speed version, but it is not a bad substitute. Or perhaps not a substitute at all: Like watching the Sopranos in burst mode, the faster speed and broader views will let you see the long storylines of the landscape in a way you can’t from a car window.
I certainly makes the hours flow along, for one thing.
And did make the 12-hour flight from San Francisco to Shanghai across a clouded Pacific seem rather long in comparison…