September 15, 2014



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.

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.

Through 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," he replied. "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. "They're back. For now."

Posted by Gerard Van der Leun at September 15, 2014 2:58 AM
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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.

Near Here?

▼ 38.453934, -109.382037Address:Station is accessible‎

Placement on map is approximate
+38° 27' 14.16", -109° 22' 55.33"

Posted by: Cletus Socrates at April 15, 2011 10:07 AM

I typed "The middle of Nowhere" into the address bar of Google Earth, and that's exactly where it took me!

Posted by: Jewel at April 15, 2011 10:45 AM

I remember the days following--no contrails, no traffic, nothing. Then a flight overhead, apparently on final for Offutt. Then the President's speech. The another fight into Offutt. Wondered then, wonder now if what I heard was the Vice President going into safekeeping while the President was out in the open.

I probably won't ever know. Got a box of things like that.

Posted by: Larry Sheldon at April 15, 2011 10:45 AM

This is just about the location in Utah where I woke up in the back seat of a limousine, one morning in '74, and in a disoriented state of mind, convinced by my little brother that Colorado had declared war on Utah. Why he told me that I can't hazard a guess. Why I believed him is anyone's haphazard guess.

Posted by: Jewel at April 15, 2011 10:51 AM

tell Captain Kindergarten Hello for me. I see ya'll are enjoying the quiet life.

Posted by: CharleyMike at April 15, 2011 11:52 AM

It was the same here in Minneapolis...we live directly under the flight path of one of the two primary runways, and we've gotten used to the noise, and the intermittent conversations with neighbors in the back yards.

When I got home that day, there was an eerie silence. Many people had left work early, and the drone of the freeway was minimal. No planes, no contrails.

Our worry was that possibly tall building in major cities were being targeted, and the IDS building is the most prominent in town, kind of a local landmark building.

There was, as you note, a feeling of security in hearing the F-16's from the Duluth Air Guard occasionally circling the town, mostly staying out of eye- and ear-shot. But we'd hear them up there once in a while, waiting as the just-in-case for the unthinkable...which evil minds had managed to think of.

Posted by: Blackwing1 at April 15, 2011 1:44 PM

Yeah, I remember the empty skies above Seattle. Something else too, that made sure they stayed that way as long as required.

One morning riding the ferry across the Sound to Seattle, I went on deck for same air, even though it was pitch dark and rather cool. Suddenly there was a darker shape looming on the water, and the ferry passed no more than a few hundred feet from a guided missile frigate sitting silently, not moving, not showing a single light. I could just barely make out that the AA missile launchers we loaded and elevated.

I remember thinking that was a very good idea, but wondering how long it would be before we were lulled back into complacency by those who cannot cope with reality, and constantly try to make us play make-believe.

Posted by: sherlock at April 15, 2011 3:17 PM

How wonderful that you are in such a good place with a finely-aged friend, Gerard, wrangling a few finely-tuned words into a spare, elegant picture. Be well and happy!

Posted by: raincityjazz at April 15, 2011 4:30 PM

I remember those days. I lived, then, in NE New Jersey. Could see the plume of smoke from the two holes in the ground. It *was* eerie to not hear the planes, which normally were the constant background noise. Normally, I could look up at any time of the day, and see three planes in my little patch of sky. It *was* comforting during those days to see, every so often, a small glint of light, very high up, reflecting off of the fighters...I prayed for that pilot.

We did not know what was going to come next.

I remember the anthrax scare at the same time. Mail was examined and opened on the front porch. Stupid, awful. I had jugs of water in storage, just in case the water supply was contaminated. We did not know what was going to come next.

I remember packing my "away" case. Food, clothes, meds, can opener. Always kept the car in full gas. Had stuff in the trunk ready at all times. Had a plan how to contact family...We did not know what was going to come next...

Phone calls from Midwest family: PLEASE come home, don't stay there.

I remember going into the City, finally, in late October or early November. Our little group made the pilgrimage to the site. The fire hoses still in the streets, the disorientation because the WTC was gone. The wetness, the 'dirt' at the curbs. Every step was on holy ground, the burial place of those thousands of people. I will never, ever forget the smell, still lingering in the air.

I remember being out in my little NJ garden later that November. Everything was uncertain, we didn't know if we would see 2002. I was crying, for the first time since 9/11. I decided to plant tulip bulbs. Each dig into the earth (rather savage digs, btw) I said, this is for YOU, you a**hole Osama, you're not getting me down, I WILL see 2002... [plunk goes the bulb, cover]. This is for YOU, you a**hole killer, you're not defeating me, there WILL be a 2002... [plunk goes the bulb, cover].

Rinse, repeat.

The spring of 2002? Dozens of glorious tulips, throughout my little garden.

Molōn labe!

Posted by: flyoverpilgrim at April 15, 2011 7:32 PM

"Yes,"I agreed."They're back for now."

You got that right Gerard. The airways are only a "poof" away from being silent once again... This time for an extended period. The cost of keeping my A320 in the air is rising geometrically faster than ticket prices, which, of course, the media never mentions. The whole airline industry is a wobbly house of cards waiting for the next breeze from the religion of peace to topple it.

Posted by: Captain Dave at April 16, 2011 7:37 PM

I read that the Japanese are working on teleportation science. If the Religion of Pieces takes the aviation industry down, it would be nice to know that Japan could beam Mecca directly into the sun.

Posted by: Jewel at April 16, 2011 11:40 PM

Jewel is a jewel. Just finishin' off a bottle of TJ's 2BuckChuck...never a bad year! Nite, all.

Oh...saved my magnetized fridge memo pad...had entries across left margin...time of sightings..."FA-18's out of Lemoore NAS", etc., 9/11/01. Only traffic overhead for days.

Posted by: Ed Brown at April 18, 2011 12:56 AM

Captain Dave,
Go see Atlas Shrugged. The movie posits a 2016 in which the price of fuel is so high that the airlines have ceased flying and railroads have become the transport system of choice. A bit of a stretch, perhaps. But your words seem to indicate, "Maybe not!"

Posted by: Jimmy J. at April 18, 2011 10:11 PM

Ah, Moab. In 2009 I returned there with my bride after being absent for several decades. Things had changed greatly but the night sky and the sunrise on the sandstone were as beautiful as ever. USFS Manti-La Sal NF, 1972

Posted by: Bruce at April 20, 2011 7:43 PM

Contrails are rare. Todays turbo-fan jet engines produce no condensation. It is 'chemtrails' that are being gridded across our skies , horizon to horizon daily. Think not? Look up. The phony clouds. Watch the patterns of aluminum, barium, and strontium being sprayed on the population. Got headaches, coughs, shortness of breath you can't quiet explain? We're lab rats. Go to and educate yourself ...then raise cain about it.

Posted by: JoeDaddy at September 15, 2014 3:32 AM

Captain Dave! If you are reading here, please know that you are missed. Best wishes always. DHH

Posted by: Deborah HH at September 15, 2014 6:35 AM

Damn. Gerard, this sent a shiver down spine. Thanks for this blog, sir! Always save it for end of the day.

Posted by: fred at September 15, 2014 9:05 AM

Here in flyover eastern Washington, we enjoy dead silent nights but for coyotes and aviation. After 9-11 there came the eerie quiet. One night I was up with my newborn son (11 days old on 9-11) and the sound of aviation returned. A high altitude plane flying from westward. Afghanistan bound. Then another. And another. All at 7 minute intervals - dozens of USAF planes, flying in combat formation, over the US.

Now, from my hunting blind, I am watching Obama's contrails going west. I would describe it as underwhelming in comparison.

Posted by: Casey Klahn at September 15, 2014 11:31 AM

Sorry: "flying west."

Posted by: Casey Klahn at September 15, 2014 11:33 AM