Note From Jon


Wednesday, October 31, 2007

And the Lord said "Peter... I can see your house from here"

Pardon me while I get a little sappy. In my friend’s Journal of Discovery he mentions recalling three good times you had this week. Thankfully I have far more than three moments to be grateful for, but I had an experience yesterday along those lines that I wanted to make a note of.

I was returning from a rainy business trip to Orlando. For the flight I had picked a book written by Matt Palka, one of Darren’s good friends from college. In Moment in the Sun, Matt relates his experience of moving from Ohio to California in the summer after graduation… by bicycle (with shades of my friends’ documentary about their cross country segway trip, and Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild – without the tragedy). As we began our descent, I closed the book and peered out the window.

I was immediately struck by the juxtaposition of scale between Matt’s travels on his bike and the enormous spread of countryside below me. In one glance I was taking in more than he could hope to cover in a day. Many people hate flying, but I always pick a window seat and feel like a kid again when watching the world from above. Never was that more true than yesterday when I rolled my fleece into a pillow for my chin and rested my forehead against the plastic window.

As an aside, I noticed a line on the airplane wing with text that read “Do not walk outside this area”… on both sides of the line! (I think “Get the hell back over here” might be more appropriate for one side). I tried to photograph this incongruity but my water damaged cell phone camera (the one with the LED flash that stays on at all times... even with the phone turned off... and constantly has people pointing out that my pocket is glowing) wasn't up for the task, as seen at the top of this post, so I recreated the blurred out sign here.

But once I’d had my fun with incomprehensible signage I began to scan the scene below. First I played how-high-are-we which I guessed at about 2000 ft (based on my recollection of similar sized scenery from my skydive) and then I played the where-are-we game. I was debating between the Eastern Shore and the Jamestown area when we passed over a bridge that I quickly concluded was the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. That’s when the real treat began.

The sun was setting, the sky was cloudless, and we were flying lower and slower than I ever remember. As I began picking out obvious landmarks, like the Masonic Temple in Alexandria, the plane began tracing a backwards question mark path to approach National Airport from the north side. My excitement built as we turned out over Arlington and I followed the line of high rises west from Rosslyn, through Courthouse, Clarendon and past their end in Ballston. The girl sitting behind me must have assumed I’d never flown before as I practically hopped in my seat scanning the intersections below. I remember the feeling playing with Google Earth when I first located my house, and I always got a rush flying into Logan Airport on a Friday night after spending the afternoon testing our ship simulator in the exact same spot of our virtual Boston harbor, but it was even more thrilling to finally see my house from an airplane.

I’ve played this game on most D.C. flights but never come closer than perhaps seeing the subdivision where I lived in high school. This time I found the intersection and began counting down each house until I found mine. We were impossibly low and making a wide turn that seemed to pivot around that specific spot. I could see the empty driveways, the dead tree in the front yard (that will soon come down), and the backyard filled with memories of watching movies projected on the back of the house and playing croquet until midnight… with the author of the book I had just been reading!

Matt includes a CD of his music to accompany the novel and I had my own soundtrack of a favorite Roger Waters song playing in my head, with the lyrics “And the Lord said, Peter, I can see your house from here” on repeat as my eye drew a straight line from the house to the Washington Monument and on to the Capital. They were all glowing a fiery orange thanks to another of my favorite aspects of D.C., the autumn sunsets. The plane completed its question mark path, but not without triggering a whole series of memories. I could see the Blue Ridge mountains marking the horizon, where my grandparents ashes are scattered. The plane passed over Great Falls, where I’ve begun doing some outdoor rock climbing. I saw the Women in the Armed Forces Memorial where another grandmother, who was a member of the WAVES, is scattered. Finally the plane swooped over Gravelly Point, where I stop on nearly every bike ride to picnic, read, or just catch one plane landing before finishing my favorite bike loop. Matt Palka rode across the country to find where he wanted to be; In one ten minute final approach I was reminded that at least for now I’ve answered that question (and of course I finally saw my house from an airplane!).

1 comment:

Jan Louis said...

I call it "MY Own Personal Google Earth" and play the game every time I fly into Miami (and as of late DC and the more rare Isla Verde, Puerto Rico) and I have spotted the house I grew up in various times, along with many other landmarks - FUN!