We waited on the tarmac in the mid-morning rain. Droplets beaded up and slid down the thick window panes. Outside, men in slickers stowed the last of the baggage into the belly of the plane. As they drove away I watched the air brakes and aileron panels move along the surface of the wing.
Soon we were racing down the runway, picking up speed as the jet engines screamed in our ears. Raindrops morphed into tiny rivulets, streaking back horizontally across the glass. We lifted off and climbed into a thick bolt of white cotton.
It took a while, but finally we broke through the ceiling, jettisoned into the overarching dome of blue sky. Clouds stretched out below us, forming a bed of white furrows, like a freshly plowed and limed field in spring.
Further on, the blanket began to break up into smaller puffy clouds. Below us through the holes you could see the patchwork of brown and green fields cut by twisted muddy river ribbons. Some of the green fields were speckled with yellow—soybeans beginning to flower.
As we neared our destination, we passed over a huge mirrored expanse of lake, then banked and circled again before touching the tarmac at Dallas-Fort Worth. Pink and white clover tops shivered along the edge of the runway in the wind.
Three days later we embarked for home, climbing through the haze above a bed of white cobblestones. The cloud cover resembled arctic tundra, crisscrossed here and there with bluish-grey snowmobile tracks. Crystallized cirrus clouds cut the eastern sunlight into a thousand points of rainbow colors. As the plane banked you could see several large billowy mushroom structures erupting from the tundra base, mounds of white cotton candy. Their shadows hinted that we were flying east, directly into the sun.
We found Springfield-Hartford much as we had left it: overcast, with patches of earth visible during descent.
At 36,000 feet the sky is always blue. The clouds below morph into myriad forms, each one sculpted from misty vapors capable of vanishing as quickly as they condense.
Those visible forms we see are mere illusions, scattered points of light that bounce off microscopic water droplets—of little substance perhaps; but they serve to lift the human mind to greater, loftier levels.
When I think of those hours spent traversing the country, it’s cloud illusions I recall.