It’s amazing what five miles will do to your perspective. This weekend I flew across the continent and got to see all our country’s fantastic scenery from 30,000 feet and here’s what I concluded: we have a lot of empty space. I mean an unfathomable amount. Anyone who thinks there is a crowding problem in the U.S. should look out the plane window, because most of our land is an expanse so desolate and foreign that you would be hard pressed to even identify it as Earth. Don’t believe me? Here is some of the landscape from southeastern California:
It could be Mars, or the surface of a pebble. With some perspective you realize that land isn’t a place, it’s a process. Dormant volcanoes, the crush of migrating rock splintering Earth’s fragile crust, it’s all visible when you look down on it. From the air you also get a sense of the danger of our open spaces and logically, our frailty as humans. You could set out on foot from any major city in the country and within several days reach a wilderness so devoid of civilization that you could perish and your bones would return to the elements without another person finding them. There are places in this country where man has never set foot and, without a drastic change in water availability, never will. When you get some quiet time to look out the oval porthole in an airliner’s aluminum skin you also come to a different understanding of geographic features. When is a lake not a lake? When it’s this:
Salt Lake City sits on the edge of what you would think would be a lake, but it’s not. Land gradually becomes a thin skim of something liquid, but I wouldn’t call it a lake. This border of land and water is a membrane, a place where birds, fish, and lizards can coexist but none can call the place their own.
Every little street, hill, and mountain range is flattened from above and become ripples on the graceful curve of our planet. With a limitless dome of heavenly blue above, a whisper of white atmosphere in the middle, and a delicate crust of dried magma on the bottom, we are in a delicate and perilous balance between the black silence of space and the molten sturm-und-drang of cooling planetary matter. From above, our world is a fragile place. Let’s try to take care of it.