Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Flying home at sunset 

Of all of the cities in which I have lived, my favorite to fly into is Seattle. I love the views of mountain, forest, water and city that make up the approach into SeaTac. As a native of the wide, flat, barely-above-sea-level Texas Gulf Coast, I am fascinated by mountains. When I plan a plane trip, I carefully select seats for the flight back to Seattle on the side of the airplane with the best mountain views. On flights from Houston, seats on the left side of the airplane afford a spectacular eye-level reach-out-and-touch-it view of Mt. Rainier. Flights from the San Francisco Bay Area call for seats on the right side of the plane, from which one can count off the volcanic peaks - Shasta, Hood, St. Helens, Rainier, and others - that mark this edge of the Ring of Fire.

Yesterday, my late afternoon flight home to Seattle from Oakland was delayed. I was tired, so once on the plane I dozed, pillow against the window, for the first hour of the flight. When I woke, I looked out the window, hoping to see a recognizable peak. What I saw instead were scattered mounds of billowing cumulus clouds. The sun was low enough in the sky that only the tops of the clouds were illuminated; they glowed a warm, soft coral pink. The lower parts of the clouds were a soft silver gray. Far below was a town, surrounded by a dark, rolling patchwork of farmland and forest. The western windows of the buildings below reflected the sun's orangey evening rays. Forehead resting against the glass, I stared out at the show. Mt. Hood came into view, a snowy peak in the clouds, bathed in a rosy glow. The ragged top of St. Helens was barely visible through the clouds, but caught a few of the setting sun's rays. And then came Rainier, towering and craggy, shining in the low, warm light. As the sun continued to set, the color moved to the undersides of the clouds, then began to fade.

As we reached the south end of Puget Sound, the sky cleared; the trees and water below were distinguishable more as changes in texture than in color. The airplane banked to begin a large, looping descent. We briefly flew westward; the line of the horizon stretched across my field of view, shading from burning gold in the west to fuschia and blue-violet in the east. As we turned north again, Seattle came into view, and I picked out landmarks: SeaTac (our destination, after a final sightseeing jaunt), the Fauntleroy ferry, the container cranes on the docks, downtown buildings, the Space Needle. North of downtown, the plane banked in a tighter curve; I pressed my nose to the glass, looking down. As we flew south, I picked out Queen Anne Avenue, then followed it ahead to spot the old high school, the water towers, the apartment building next to our house. I couldn't see the roof of our house in the dark, but knew when we were directly overheard. Hello, gatos, I thought. See you soon.

Half an hour later, I was on the ground, hugging Paul. An hour after that, the cats were gathered around us on our bed, sniffing all the scents of California and marking me as their own again. It's good to be home.