Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The absence of flight


In Alaska, our lives revolved around the ocean and the sky. Sometimes they were mirrors of each other, wild and gray, clouds hanging low to kiss the water. We had our own language of charts and tides, gales and rain. Our food came from the sea and everything else came by air.

Here, six hundred miles from the ocean, this is a terrestrial life. The people here are tied to the land more than the sky. They speak of distances in hours-six hours to Portland, ten to Seattle. They do not fly.

It took me a few weeks to notice the emptiness of the sky. Far off any commercial jet route, no white trails scribe the sky. Living in Alaska for so long I forgot the constant presence of float planes, Ken's souped up Cessna taking off from the harbor, John over at Harris Air headed south for the weekly Port Alexander shuttle. The buzzing of these planes was so common that it became a background music that ran through the days.

Here if a plane flies over we look up. Most likely it is Joe, bringing hunters in to Red's Horse Ranch. We stand there and watch and wonder. Once the plane is gone, the silence is complete. There is no incoming tide, no seiner humming by, no cruise ship.

Landlocked, it is a different way of looking at the world. It can make me feel a little desperate for the slow rock of the waves or the heart-sinking moment of takeoff. As time goes on I am sure I will find ways to live in this valley that will become as familiar as those things that defined my old life. I need to slow down, have patience, with myself and with this place.

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