June 18, 2006


IN A HIDDEN VALLEY in the foothills of Utah's La Sal mountains, my old friend and I sat on his stone porch in the fading light and watched the sun disappear behind the soaring red rock of the Moab Wall ten miles to the west. As always from this perch along the fault line between basin and range, the view revealed four different American landscapes: desert, farmland, rolling ranch land and high mountains.

In the pasture to our right, the wranglers were bedding down the ranch's horses for the night. Up along the pine dotted cliffs on our left the last hunting hawks were circling. In front of us the impossible burnt orange of a Moab sunset swarmed up the side of the western sky.

As we sat there, cigars burning low and the Metaxa in the stoneware cups sipped slowly, our conversation ebbed into the long silences that wrap around you when the world puts on its very best end-of-day displays in the early Autumn.

Then from very far away over the mountains behind us a faint, rising whoosh arced high overhead. Leaning our heads back we marked the contrail of an airliner slicing across the sky.

In that still air the line of flight was marked from somewhere far to the east (Chicago? New York City? Further still?), and slanted down the slope of the sky towards somewhere far to the southwest (Phoenix? Los Angeles? Far beyond?). In the following moments while the night rose over the mountain behind us, more contrails appeared from the east arcing down behind the tinted thunderheads that moved towards us from the desert. Just before full dark we'd marked over a dozen, and they lingered, gradually expanded and then dissolved across all that empty sky.

"One of the things I remember about Seattle in the days following the Eleventh." my friend offered as the day faded out, "was the emptiness of the skies. No planes. For the first time I can remember, days with no planes."

"In New York," I replied, "we had planes. Fighters cut across the sky at all altitudes. You'd hear their sharp sounds slice through the air above you at all hours. You were glad to hear them. You slept better when you slept at all."

"Still, it was sort of peaceful in Seattle during those days. Peaceful in an unnerving way. No noise from the air. No contrails."

He paused as the last light in the valley faded and the contrails high above still marked the sky like broad smudges on a blackboard. "Well, they're back now," he said as the stars came on.

"Yes," I agreed. "We're back."

[September 12, 2003]

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Posted by Gerard Van der Leun at June 18, 2006 7:58 AM | TrackBack
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

Thanks for bringing back the memory of plane-less sky. I lived 10 miles south of San Francisco Airport in 2001. The eeriness of not seeing and hearing planes approaching SFO post 9-11 would never leave me, I think. It was haunting.

Posted by: RK at September 11, 2005 8:31 PM

First........I am really enjoying reading your blog. We think alike. I only wish I had the command of the English language that you have. I was led here by a metablog and added you to my list, so look forward to my daily alerts.

Secondly....I live in Seattle....have all my life but for a few stints elsewhere, and was very glad to hear that our fair city can actually attract people who think logically. I had given up any hope of such a thing happening. As you probably know, Seattle is sorely lacking in people with the ability to do so.

Be prepared to be on the defensive. Be prepared to be assaulted by hatefilled bumper stickers on our local roads, or organized groups of upsidedown flag wavers anti-war "peace" ralliers, the occasional neanderthal in your face thug (usually union) "compassionate" i.e., give me more, and more, and more money child educating addict and take care of your health. You're going to need to use every ounce of your being, and I'm warning you, you will go home exhausted and frustrated from your daily encounters with mind numb libs who don't (seem to) have the capacity or the will to listen to opposing opinion let alone logical thought. One of my staunch lib friends actually told me the other night that he thinks he is becoming more conservative as he ages. Hell! The guy is 60 years old. How long does it take? I'll answer that.......when you are filled to the brim and thoroughly propagandized........it could take forever. (He's from California btw) But you've decided to take on that challenge...what a brave soul.

Anyway......our skies are filled with the blessed sound of Boeing jets flying overhead now. It is a soothing sound. The first few days after the biggest crime in history the skies were silent but for the sound of the Flicker, Chickadee, Wren, Swallow, Blackbird and Eagle. For a few precious days the sky belonged to them alone, and as I sat on my deck and felt an enormous loss I marveled at the fact that I would miss the sound of people commuting in the skies. And when I did hear or see a plane it was military out of McChord. The birds stopped their cadence and even they looked skyward as if they missed them too.

You posted:

"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood."

In your case, you've done a very good job of dispelling that rumor.

;) M

Posted by: Maureen at September 14, 2005 10:06 AM

Thanks for your kind words. I'm not a new hand at Seattle having been there for extended times over the years. I'm quite prepared for all that it has to offer -- good and bad. In fact, I see the overwhelming vociferousness of the Left in Seattle as an opportunity not as a problem. Lots of people there who "think different," and are underserved in terms of access to information and opinion.

Posted by: Gerard Van Der Leun at September 14, 2005 10:51 AM

I live in Bozeman, MT. In the silent sky the day after 9/11 came one rip of sound and contrail: Dick Cheney and his escort, en route from Wyoming to Washington. Somehow there's something even emptier about a sky with only one contrail and knowing who it belongs to.

Posted by: Wenda at June 18, 2006 5:23 PM
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