Tuesday, August 31, 2010

On beauty on planes

I was on a plane the other day. Then I was on another one a few days later. And another a few weeks after that, and back again two weeks later. And another one a few weeks later and just a couple of days after that. A strange thing in these climate-challenged times, but I used to love flying. The physical act of being in a plane, of taking off from the ground, the feeling as the plane reached that point where its wheels leave the tarmac and you are no longer of the ground but of the air, the point where you no longer go along, but up. And up and up. The sensation as the plane climbs, but climbs nothing, only forces more air beneath its wings, only somehow pushes its way into the air, changing the path of the air so that it becomes no longer something we effortlessly move through and bat aside but something that holds us up, this air, this breathable substance, that a certain distance from the earth becomes breathable no longer. I used to love it, being in a tin can so seemingly miraculously staying in the air, above the clouds, holding us all aloft with it, separated from death and downwards only by this metal and plastic shell. And inside, this bizarre pantomime of ordinary life, with tiny drinks served by oddly-uniformed men and women, out of metal carts, with chocolate and perfume for sale at exorbitant prices, with its own stylized language of the seat pocket in front of you and overhead compartments and in-flight entertainment and turbulence and comes to a complete stop, and with everyone sitting facing the same way, except for the 'upper' classes where sometimes people get to face the opposite way, now, in a return to what was common in the lowliest horse and carriage a hundred and two hundred years ago, but throughout this plane, this cocoon of life above the clouds, we all act as if it's ordinary, normal, when it's extraordinary, astonishing, a continuing feat of immediate engineering and human-machine coordination and international planning and most of all this envelope of air, our air, surrounded only inches away by the expanse of air that will surely kill us if we go to it, yet which eems just as surely to keep us flying, here in our tin can. It's extraordinary, every time. That's why I used to love it. That and many other reasons. And I still find it extraordinary. Perhaps I love it still, some part of me does, still loves the feeling of flying. The feeling in my body and mind. Of course it isn't much approved of now to say so, that pleasure in the act of flying can feel tainted by the damage that flying does to our shared planet, the tonnes of carbon dioxide emitted by each flight. And those aspects are perhaps the most central ones of this act, now, in our better educated, more knowledgeable times. But I think I gained that love of flying when I was very young. I don't remember my first flight, so I must have been very young when I was first in a contraption that took me thousands of feet above the air and kept me there and took me back to earth safely. And I loved flying for many years before I knew the damage it caused. It does not go away, that love, that physical sensation. It doesn't go away because I know better now. Because I feel differently now. I used to love too, secondarily, simply being in a plane. The privacy in public, the aloneness in a contained crowd, the sense of movement while we were carried within something unmoving. I thought, I felt, I experienced many changes on planes, intensely, specifically, in ways that I did not feel at other times. I used sometimes to look forward to being on planes, to the time and type of time I'd have in the air, knowing I could accomplish certain things there, transform in certain ways, even as the plane moved me through space, I would find a different way of being, for a while. I used to fly quite often, I suppose, often enough that it was a part of my life, not regular but not so rare as to be an experience aside from everyday life, instead a part of life, of experience, repeated, differently, often. So I used to love flying. And it started so young and went on so long and often that the love and wonder I felt is not destroyed by what I know now, about the effects of this activity, previously a marvel, a wonder, a kind of joy. Perhaps it was a simpler time, or I was simpler, or I felt it differently. It was what it was, then. What it is now and means now is something different. Of course I am still wrestling with how to understand the much less flying that I do now in relation to what I know of its effects on the climate and our changing home. That is a much longer and more complex conversation, internal and external. I started this piece to write about something I came to on a plane, recently. I wanted to write about that, but to get to that somehow I wrote first about the love I used to have for flying, that in being on a plane a short while ago led me to what I wanted to say. So I've written about this love I used to have, this regular experience of the extraordinary, as a way of getting to what I had intended to say. On the plane I was thinking about what I could write about. What I could share. I had realised that sharing something was what this was about. Part of what being a person in the world is about, rather than a person alone. And what I came up with was sharing something beautiful. That that was something I could share, at the moment, as myself. And that that was something worth sharing. And I had that thought on that plane, that time, in that air. So now I've come home and I found some beautiful things, and I'm sharing them here. And somehow it started with the story of how I used to love flying in planes. And that is just how it was.

So here is something that I found beautiful, and nothing to do with planes.


That was a beautiful sunset at Seapoint in Dublin Bay. I got to go swimming in the sea in that sunset and that was beautiful too. I took a few other photos of that sunset; I found it hard to decide which was the best; perhaps you'll choose another one.

And here is something else beautiful.


The reflection of the clouds in such very shallow water at Sandymount, in Dublin Bay again, just nearby the Pigeonhouse towers pictured in the other photo. A different day, and beautiful too I thought. And other photos from Sandymount too that day, you might find another more to your liking.

From the air to the ground to the sea and the sun and the clouds; a beautiful planet I love more than planes.


Blogger Snag Breac said...

I love flying too. I don't think it needs to colour your love of it knowing the environmental cost. Its still spectacularly amazing, as you say, being in a tin can in the sky. The bit I love the best is looking down on the planet and realising it IS a planet. Seeing the way the earth is formed and understanding it in a totally different way, its like a totally different relationship.
Lovely piece.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010 at 10:22:00 GMT+1  

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