I have flown a lot. I've been flying since I was a babe in my mother's arms. I do not revel in the sights and sounds at airports anymore. The ordeal is as mundane as wiping my butt after a shit. It's part of the process. But flying in itself - soaring above civilization, closeted in an aluminium can, separated from the frigid low-pressure air outside by 3 to 4 inches of ice-crusted windows - is always awe-inspiring! This is why I always prefer to sit at the window. I especially enjoy watching the sunlight skid and bounce off shifting clouds and distant buildings. Dots of reflecting light competing for space in the horizon against the overbearing sun.
Leaving civilization behind is quite momentous. The captain(s) inform you of their agenda (or whatever they deem fit to convey to us mortals merely sharing this aerial vehicle with them) and within seconds, you are hurtling down a roadway at an acceleration hitherto unexperienced by terrestrial beings and suddenly you cannot feel the rumble of rubber on tarmac. Being airborne can be scary. Every cell in your body fights the sensation, your ears clog, your kidneys pump adrenaline (not talking to you “I fly across oceans to grab lunch everyday” people) but the view is mind-blowing. You see the airport recede below you, the shapes and sizes of matchbox structures rising up from the debris of roads, railways and greenery in disarray. As you cruise through the air unfazed by the fact that a hole the size of a fist on the wall can make the whole ordeal quite final, you notice the interesting way in which the city gives way to countryside ever so gradually. The density of the grey fades, giving way to green, brown and blue pocked here and there by clumps of darker greens and before you know it, you’re at cruising altitude.
I enjoy staring out at the horizon, trying my best to absorb the expanse of the visible and imagine the expanse of the invisible, telling myself how amazing it would be if I could go further up, see more than just the vague curve on the horizon. If I could fly up so high as to see 2 continents in a single frame - my oval window frame. But despite the tantalizing in-between-ness of the altitude at which the aluminium can speeds through space and time [zones], I am already at the coastline. I can see (in this particular journey) the English coast receding behind us, the sea lashing at the golden coast, sunlight bouncing off waves and the occasional speedboat. But before I can complete this paragraph, we are already above France, the countryside of one, giving way to the other. Tis’ but a tiny rivulet from this viewpoint – an impediment to Napoleon’s conquests back in the day.
The impact of human intervention on earth is quite evident from here. Quarries and broken landscapes mar what could have been pristine wilderness and imposing mountain ranges. There is very little left that is yet to be explored or exploited. You see the world for what it is to our species – a breeding ground that gives endlessly and hardly ever receives any gratitude in kind from the parasitic bipedal animals. In the distance I can see two chimneys billowing white plumes of smoke. They look like nuclear reactors but they may well be something else – another cog in the industrial engine of human exploit. Flying at this height and speed is a bittersweet feeling – you can see other airplanes whizz past, white fumes propelling the container at speeds unattainable on the surface of our almost green planet, hundreds (if not thousands) of square kilometres of landscape beneath, tiny clumps of grey indistinguishable as individual houses spotting the ground below in villages and towns, clouds in the distance and the ever-present tip of the aircraft wing sighing in attestation to your lack of control over where you can fly and what you can see.
Before long the captain mumbles over the intercom that your short stint among the throes of aerial beings is to come to an end and you are to prepare yourself for the inevitable re-joining of your corporal being with the terrestrial wayward life. You feel a lurch as the earth below zooms in, a gradual deepening of the colours, the increasing friction of the air as the wings cut through it, the dots of reflection in the sky materializing into buildings or solar panels, the road network - like a massive serpent snaking its way through the undergrowth of trees, buildings and the occasional lake, the specks becoming ants, then model cars, then vehicles speeding through the countryside, engaging in the hivemind that is society. The plates under the wings (brakes?) come out now, increasing the surface area of contact and retarding the speed of the tin can hurtling through the air as we descend back into the throes of the earth from whence we had ascended hours ago, and the sudden commencement of the disembarking station - haunting with a revolving flat-topped antenna presenting an unsightly welcome from the gorgeousness of seeing it all from 20000 feet away. The wheels rumble out noisily and touch the tarmac, with the smell of burning rubber I assume, and the seat gives me a jolt before I start lurching against the tight cloth seatbelt they force me to wear – a deference to the authority of the kindly lady who gave me a can of Coca-Cola when I asked her for one.
Now I can turn the flight mode on my mobile phone off and forget about the whole experience until the next time. I need to go back to the din of normalcy we call life.