america the beautiful

[think kit. day seventeen.]

SAN FRANCISCO — Mountains make me feel wonderfully small.

On a map, the world doesn’t seem so big. It’s easy to travel from end to end of a large city. I can look down upon national parks and world wonders from Google Earth.

Even a real bird’s-eye view makes things look small. The tiny cars, patchwork farms and model buildings make up a pretty toy world that I love to look at while flying.

But mountains are different. I don’t know if it’s because I grew up in flat-as-a-pancake Illinois, but the sight of snow caps on the horizon make me gasp every time I see them. The summer I lived in Portland, I saw Mt. Hood and Mt. St. Helens most mornings from my 13th-floor window, and it made me pause every day. Driving out there through Montana and Idaho was glorious, and I couldn’t take enough pictures.

I’ve flown out west twice this year: Once in November to reunite with my Portland friends and today to San Francisc, for a business trip. I had a layover in Salt Lake City during the Portland trip, and I shamelessly leaned over the window-seat passenger to see the glimmering lake and surrounding mountains.

An over-filtered photo of Portland, Ore., which I took this fall at Pittock Mansion.
An over-filtered photo of Portland, Ore., which I took this fall at Pittock Mansion.

This time, I had the window seat. About halfway through the flight, I glanced out at the dark landscape, and I saw a mix of deep grays and blues. I thought they were clouds at first, but my eyes adjusted and I saw the gray labyrinth below was not fluff but a series of flowing lines, meeting at sharp points and veering off again at other angles. The veiny imprint upon the ground was massive.

Mountains. Blankets of mountains as far as I could see. Eventually the peaks melted into the hazy stratosphere, and as I continued to gaze, I saw a perfect, three-part image framed by my window. The sky was so clear, and above the belt of haze, the stars popped against an endless navy blue dome. It was a wonderful progression of gray to blue, dotted every so often with the golden glow of a small mountain town.

I tracked the flight and saw that we were over the southwest corner of Colorado, approaching Utah. The window I had been looking at was actually a row behind (I was seated right behind the wing), and I slightly reclined my chair, pressing my ear into the headrest so I could stare.

It wasn’t comfortable, but I didn’t care. How could these mountains still be going? I couldn’t wrap my head around it. I can’t.

The mountains began to level, or the clouds thickened — I’m not sure, exactly, but I returned to the work I was doing 10 minutes earlier. I kept looking back, but there was nothing.

I want to see those sleeping mountains again. Perhaps I’ll get to visit them in my dreams tonight and enjoy the awe once more.

[Think Kit Dec. 17 prompt: Share a moment that stands out. Was it moving, or awkward, or infuriating, or ecstatic, or ______? Who was with you? Where were you?]

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