Wednesday, January 30, 2008

NIGHTTIME OVER THE NORTH PACIFIC

The mostly empty 737 lifted off the runway at the moment when night has bested day, and images below were barely discernible. The cabin lights were off, and I was alone in the rear section. I watched the lights of Kodiak slip under the wing and disappear behind us; and then the veil of clouds obscured the planet's surface.

I settled into a traveler's reverie supported by the distinctive combination of the jet engines' muffled roar and the air rushing past the thin metal skin around me. Inside and outside were almost equally dark, with the exception of the bright wingtip light visible in the corner of my window view. Openings in the cloud cover drifted by, appearing below as dark spaces in the gray.

Then there appeared far below, in the slow-motion movie viewed through an airplane window like a strange television show, a yellow light. As it slipped by, I could see that it was the light of a ship far below, visible through a large opening in the clouds. The view focused as I glided overhead, and I could just make out the white wake signature of two screws - giving me a clue that this lone vessel on a black sea was perhaps an Alaska State Ferry or an ocean-going tug.

I was gripped at that moment by an incredible feeling of loneliness and insignificance. I in my tiny dim space hurtling through the air, they in their small vessel racing towards who-knows-what through the incredible darkness of the sea at night. I pictured the wheel house of the ship; maybe a lone crew member peering into the darkness over the glow of the instruments. I've been there, and I could feel it.

And then it was gone.

We continued towards Anchorage. At one point the clouds below were illuminated with a strange yellow glow in large patches - the lights of a town or some industries glowing against the cloud bottom. "How strange" I thought to myself, and I drifted deeper into that place between sky and earth, darkness and light.

The bang of landing gear on pavement jolted me awake. We were down, the lights were on, people were reaching for cell phones. Welcome home weary traveler.

1 comment:

pjd said...

This is very nicely written. Anyone who has flown a long way at night can identify with this.

As to this: I was gripped at that moment by an incredible feeling of loneliness and insignificance.

That's the place where I mostly live my life. Well, not so much the loneliness part, but the insignificance part is spot on.

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