The View From Ten Thousand Feet

 It’s all cut up and crooked.

On this seemingly endless overnight flight that is, nevertheless, taking us only a measly one-fifth of the way around the world at this latitude, the Big Guy has the window seat.  After hours of intermittent dozing in a space so cramped you couldn’t put convicts in it without provoking human rights complaints, my point of view is a tad jaundiced.  All I want is to be once again on terra firma and expansiva, in a place where throwing garbage on the floor is socially unacceptable.  But this off-the-cuff commentary catches my attention.  Losing interest in my various irritants, I crane forward to see an undeniably foreign landscape.   

The irregular fields below speak of a thousand years and more of human habitation and agriculture in a way that is clearer than any textbook explanation.  Curved fields tell of successive waves of forest clearing; jagged lines defined by ancient rock walls show age-old separation of pasture from cultivated fields.  These are not the huge grid-pattern and mechanized-equipment-friendly fields of Western Canada, nor even the tidily narrow rectangular strips of land fronting on the St. Lawrence River and dating from the early French settlements.  Nope, we’re not over Kansas—or any part of Canada—any more.

But something else is niggling at my brain.  It’s been only 10 days since Neil Armstrong died, and my subconscious retrieves an article that it attributes to Harlan Ellison—the man who some would say raised both speculative fiction and argumentation to an art form.  With a nod to the (intended) first words on the moon—That’s one small step for (a) man; one giant leap for mankind—Ellison focused instead on what Armstrong apparently said while clinging to the lunar module’s ladder, just before that fateful First Step.

It’s some sort of loose stuff: I can kick it around with my foot.

As Man’s First Words on another solar system body, these might not seem memorable, but Ellison argued that they should be and he had a point.  Reflecting the inherent unexpectedness of discovery, maybe Armstrong’s off-the-cuff commentary better reflects human nature—better illustrates what leads us to explore—than any carefully scripted and conscious-of-the-moment declaration could ever do.

It’s all cut up and crooked.

Indeed.  Not, perhaps, how the guide books and brochures would present it, but as I sit back, I smile, and wonder what other discoveries lie ahead.

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4 Comments

  1. Jim taylor

    Ireland is commonly thought of as lush and green — and indeed it is, after many thousands of years in which human muscles laboriously removed the rocks from the fields. Rock walls run everywhere, sometimes around fields an acre or more in size, sometimes seeming little larger than a handkerchief. And every rock was moved by hand. I find it humbling…

    Jim T

    1. Isabel Gibson

      Jim – Oh, yes, the sheer physical effort that people expended – clearing fields, building fortifications, bringing in water – is amazing. Looking at some of the ruined buildings from three or more centuries ago, I wondered whether any of my efforts will endure: whether people in a few hundred years will look at my handiwork and marvel. Seems unlikely.

  2. Scotland! We had a lovely holiday there a couple of years ago. One of the discoveries we made was that the Scottish were not in the least dour. I don’t know why I thought they would be, probably that harsh cut up and crooked landscape. The highlight of our trip was a bus tour to St Andrews. We were in a tiny bus with a cheerful driver who sang Scottish war songs in a magnificent voice that brought tears to my eyes. St Andrews is fading in my memory, but the bus driver’s voice will be with me forever.

    I look forward to your next installment Isabel.

    1. Isabel Gibson

      Susan – You make a good point – the Scots are known for being dour, but the ones we met were all quite engaging folks. (Maybe they suffer in comparison to the Irish?) I had the same feeling of disconnection with stereotypes when we travelled up the west coast of Newfoundland a few years ago. We met friendly, articulate and witty folks – not at all like their supposed “persona”.

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