Wednesday, April 1, 2009


My career sometimes requires considerable air travel. When I’m on the way to an assignment, I usually spend the flight time finishing up project details, or running through a presentation in my mind. But on those rare occasions when I’m flying home and there is still daylight, I enjoy studying the landscape of the places I fly over.

Recently, I enjoyed such a flight from San Antonio to Minneapolis. Having received an upgrade for the trip, I was able to study the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers from the vantage point, literally, of a first-class window seat… and from a cruising altitude of 37,000 feet. Not long after we flew over that geographically fascinating area, an even more dramatic view came into focus.

An incredibly bright sun was setting to the west, sending those last few high-beams sharply into the aircraft cabin, just as a soft layer of clouds crept over the planet below us. It was if a pair of invisible hands was pulling a white blanket over the landscape. Left with no more features to study on the ground, my eyes focused on the sky. I was seated on the right side of the aircraft, which facing east… wishing I was on the other side of the plane so I could have a better vantage point from which to view the final seconds of sunset. But then, I glanced out my own window, and caught a remarkable contrast to the sun on the other side of the plane. Flying this high, you could see the shadow of the earth climbing in the east, and the sun was dropping in the west.

For a moment, I could not tell whether it was the sun that was setting, or the darkness that was rising.

I grabbed my PDA and tried to take a photo, but the picture below does not do the image justice. (Hard to take a picture through a plane window, much less with a PDA camera. The shot is tainted with fingerprints and water spots on the window of the plane.) But it was worth a try. The light layer at the bottom is cloud cover. The lighter layer at the top is fading blue sky. The dark strip in the middle is the shadow of the planet as it lifting out of the eastern horizon.

I wanted so badly to see the sun set in the west that night. But the coolest view was on the other side, where the people on the plane least thought to look. I think that’s a lesson. Maybe that hasn't anything to do with cleaning up rivers. Or, maybe it does.

© Mike D. Anderson, Crystal, MN. All rights reserved.

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