An hour out of Dallas and the man in the seat in front of me looks out of the window and sees a great expanse of white opening below him. "Is that snow?" he asks the stewardess. She smiles and nods yes. Immediately he draws the attention of his wife and his daughter (who've been bickering ever since the flight took off) to the window. "Look", he says, "isn't it grand!". And they crouch there, all three of them, their vaguely consonant faces pressed to the tiny oval of the window, staring down at the whiteness of the plain below them, remembering suddenly that it's Christmas and that they're together, that they're family.
I consider telling them that what they're looking at is probably sand (this is Southern New Mexico we're flying over), but I don't.
Flying over Nevada the earth is the color of uncooked meat. Varicose highways thread the landscape, invisible corpuscles of cars carrying their tiny portions of air towards cities they will never reach. Here and there, snow-capped peaks lie exposed like cartilage and a distant lake spreads like a bruise, growing slowly rotten in the heat of day.
Closer to the Pacific, low golden hills run towards the ocean, wave after wave of them, as though the land had decided to meet the incoming surf with a tide of its own. And I imagine the surge of it, the inexorable movement of these hills towards the shoreline, or perhaps the retreat of the shoreline itself until it is overwhelmed, swept under. For it is only the near-sightedness of our perspective that makes the land seem stationary. The truth is that the earth moves as well, the mountain ranges are mere ripples, and all the contours of our geography are merely the trough and swell of an undulation that will take millennia to die down.
P.S. Okay, so here's the deal. Custom demands that having just returned from a vacation I write an extra-long post (complete with photographs) about it. But then, Custom doesn't have a paper deadline to meet in two weeks. So as a compromise, I figure I'll just blog about the trip in small doses - a little bit here, a little bit there. Maybe with some other stuff thrown in. Like today's post for instance. Which takes you all the way to, well, noon on the first day. Sigh. It's going to be a long month.
P.P.S. And while we're at it, would someone explain to me why the good people of Mineta San Jose International feel it necessary to thank me (repeatedly, over the loudspeaker) for using their airport. It's awfully nice of them and all, but really, what else was I supposed to do? Parachute in?