Vapor trails are streamers of cloud produced by aircraft engine exhaust or changes in air pressure in clear cold humid air high above the earth’s surface. This is the basic science, this is what I once saw. Now I see differently.
The charm of the verdant sward lulled him as he lay within its lush bounty and gazed at the azure expanse above. As a lullaby would beckon a child to sleep, the world he found himself in whispered its invitation to freedom. It called him to shift his awareness to the space around all things, and to experience the vast openness of mind that can exist.
And so he lay, immersed. No forcing, no trying, just sensing, just being.
It appeared just within reach of sight: a subtle glint, a hint of pearl in the firmament above. Propelled with surgical precision, the pearl resolutely, patiently, unmistakably grew. And his eyes followed, transfixed as the anaesthetised sky was slit open by the arrow-like chalk on blue.
Blood oozed from the wound, blood that carried the beginnings of questions that lay hitherto buried. Questions that caused the slender leaves on which he lay to shed their outer skin and thus release the snaking tendrils that lay beneath. A heaving mass of shadows through which he could only see glimpses of what existed. Questions.
You, up there, yes you up there, can you see me? Are you even looking for me, or are you in a hurry to get to yesterday?
Who are you? Where are you going? Where have you come from? Do you even know?
Are you running from, are you running to? Will you even return to where you left from?
Who are you? Do I know you? Could I ever know you?
Why am I here, in such repose? What am I not seeing? Should I join you?
So he lay, so far away from where he thought he was.
I come from fields of fractured ice,James Clark Maxwell – To The Chief Musician Upon Nabla: A Tyndallic Ode
Whose wounds are cured by squeezing,
Melting they cool, but in a trice,
Get warm again by freezing.
Here, in the frosty air, the sprays
With fern-like hoar-frost bristle,
There, liquid stars their watery rays
Shoot through the solid crystal.
Growing up, I lived in a place where vapour trails (or contrails) were few and far between. Moreover, those that did appear were, to my eyes and mind, nothing more than simple science. At best, they signaled tourists heading off for a week of tropical fun, or others returning to the homeland to visit relatives they hadn’t seen in years. It never crossed my mind that these streaks of crystallized water were markers of journeys, of exploration, of dreams, and of hope. I was fixed, trapped in the world that I knew, and could not see beyond it.
It was luck more than anything else that allowed me to escape that world. The hows and whys of this I’ll keep for another time but, suffice to say, one day, many years ago now, I boarded a Qantas flight out of Melbourne, and headed off into the skies.
Since that time I have traveled far and wide, and I have lived and worked in places I had little awareness of previously. I fondly remember, in the pre-internet days, being offered a job in a different country and rushing to the bookstore, scouring the shelves for any information for the place I might be headed. I didn’t take that job, but I did take another, and that choice led me down a different path, to the place I am at now.
In this journey of a multifold of chapters, I have been fortunate enough to experience the rarified air of isolated peaks, the awe inspiring power of wild oceans, the peace of strolling in twilight around mirror like lakes, the gentle light filtering through the little windows of houses lining ancient streets. I have been galled by the monuments standing for the atrocities and avarice of humans, and then, beguiled by the intricacy and beauty that we are capable of creating. The silent, gentle starlit deserts have stood in stark contrast to the industry of concrete jungles. Senses, thoughts, feelings, heart – awake.
And then there are the people. Many, many people. Momentary interactions, a short conversation, fellow travelers with whom I might have jaunted for a week or two, colleagues, and more. People with different outlooks and beliefs to mine, people who lived in ways that I could not imagine. Poverty, riches, harmony, conflict.
The vast majority of these I will never come across again. I have forgotten names and faces and the places we met.
Some, I still keep in sparse contact with: Hello Geoffrey, I haven’t written to you for a couple of years. How are you?
Yet others, those with whom I have shared some real life with, persist far more, both in action and in words. A message here and there, an agreement to meet somewhere and talk about times past and present.
And finally, those few, those very, very few whom I can call Friends. Those who, for whatever reason, have found in me, and I in them, something that carries meaning. Those with whom I have found the space to be who I am, and for they to be who they are. Those who accept me, with all of my faults, who challenge me because they care for me, who have given me of them so that I may be a better person. Those who have, and still do, inspire me to work, reach and grow as best as I can.
I now live in a place where aeroplanes swarm through the skies, carving multitudes of tell-tale chalk on the blue canvas above. And every time I see such signs, I think of this journey. I think of how, had my comfortable little world had not been severed as it was those years ago, I would not know who I know and I would not be who I am.
It is far from over. In a few short months, all being well, I will again board a plane and head off. And as I sit there tucked in 30,000 feet in the air, I will look down upon that man tethered to the earth far below, I will see him, and I will whisper to him: Ask the questions.
Now I see differently.