At The Tops Of The Clouds

I fly a lot, but truth be told, I don't much care for it. Most of my premature grey hairs can be traced ultimately back to a flight I shouldn't have taken, and I've learned to trust my instincts on that over the years. I am a champion flight-changer and the best amateur meteorologist you've ever met. :)

It's always bumpy flying through clouds. I've gotten used to that, really, and it rarely bothers me unless I'm flying through actual storm clouds. But even then, there is this one moment, when the ride is at its shakiest, that is always worth the show: that one, brief instant when you poke through the clouds on a gloomy, rainy day, and first glimpse blue sky. It can be super bumpy on a day like this, because cloud tops are always the worst, but you get to see a landscape, if only for a minute or two, that you'll literally never see again. 

The contrast can be startling. After flying through 10,000 feet of featureless murk, you suddenly see not only the sun, but a strange, craggy landscape of clouds as dramatic in relief as any mountain range. Though the skies are suddenly much bluer, the air around the plane becomes more unstable; the serenity of the view in sharp contrast to the violence of the ride.

But it's this view, just at the tops of the clouds, where you see their ponderous bulk. Their grace. The shafts of sunlight fighting through their edges. Occasionally, the tiny shadow of your own plane against the massive, ragged side wall of a cumulus cloud. The smaller, proto-storm clouds that aren't trouble yet, but will grow ever larger and denser as the day goes on, forming somebody else's storm. Not mine.

Within a minute or two, as the plane quickly ascends to its cruising altitude, this view is lost. The clouds lose focus, and the landscape is reduced to a homogenous white blanket, devoid of detail. The ride smooths out, of course. I begin to relax, and think about those I've left behind, and those I'm flying to see. I might drift off to sleep, or watch a movie. Calmer, yes - but less present. 

It is that presence that makes the air at 10,000 feet something magical.  You are exactly where you are. You are not thinking about the past, or worrying about future problems that haven't happened yet. You are in the moment, gripping the armrests in a mix of fear and wonder, as you barrel through the roiling cloud tops in what turns out to be a very tiny plane, indeed. Magic.

This morning, I'm flying away from someone I love, and today's 10,000-foot moment was just what I needed to direct my focus, ever so briefly, from not being somewhere I want to be, to being exactly where I *am.* Where I am is pretty good. Where you are is pretty good, too. Though I'm writing this from the plane (JetBlue 1223, from Boston to RDU), you're reading this because I've landed. In the past seven days, I've flown the angry skies five times. I've landed every time.

And oh, the things I've seen.

Enjoy this, shot this morning from my iPhone at the tops of the clouds. 

4 responses
I remember the six hour flights to Boston (plus 3 hours to get to the airport in Seattle) to end up in that zone for a few hours, wondering when I'd not be making those trips anymore -- when I'd just BE there. It was a long couple of years of back and forth, but there was a ton of thinking time.

Now I'm here, so the flights home are to see my family. That involves some thinking, too.

Isn't it amazing how life turns out?

It gets more amazing every day.
The video immediately transports you to *that* place...sigh. Great post Tom.
Thanks - not much of a videographer, but this one came out really well.