Tuesday, July 20, 2010


Monday 2 November 2009 started out hot and steamy and remained that way. By mid afternoon storm clouds were gathering in the south. I had a busy day with lots of activities preparing to leave Canberra after an all too short weekend and head back to Perth. QANTAS Flight 719 is a direct flight to Perth and leaves Canberra at 19:30 hours. By 6pm the storm looked quite large and I was a bit concerned about the flight being delayed or if not that then it might get a bit bumpy up there.

From almost my first ever flight I have been a terrible flyer. I remember once being sick with fear before taking a flight, the friend driving me to the airport had to pull over so I could throw up. I would avoid flying as much as possible, I would treat any flight as if it were my last day. However over the last year I have flown so many times that now I am a total convert and look forward to my next trip into the sky. I think back now and figure I wasted so much time being scared. Now I take a window seat every time and look with wonder at the incomparable view and the wonder of powered flight.

The wonder started after a very long flight to London. I had worked hard to take that trip and it was supposed to be the beginning of a fantastic adventure for me and my family. It turned into a disastrous undertaking and we are still recovering from it but of all things I will remember the joy I felt descending over the beautiful English countryside on a gorgeous morning after a very long flight. The aircraft zig-zagged over London heading for Heathrow and we had the most amazing view of the city. London stole my heart after that and I miss it dearly.

As I made my way to the airport I began to feel that our ride was going to get bumpy. It was bumpy coming in on the Friday night, more bumpy than was usual. It was one the older aircraft though. Slightly smaller wings and a central line of TVs. God knows I am not a plane spotter so I couldn't tell you what the model was. Don't care really. I needn't have been concerned, the return aircraft was much more modern. It had the fold up wing tips. I had one of those exit row seats, port side. Nice, almost uninhibited, view forward. We taxied out and pointed that big beautiful thing at the storm. Take-off is so exhilarating that I had lost all concern about what might come after. Hand brake off, fantastic roar and we are accelerating down the runway; at about 150 knots up she went, my face glued to the port hole and the heart of an excited 12 year old beating in my chest.

I could see the veils of rain a mile or so away in the dim evening light. So beautiful. Then, with the grace of an angel amid the deep roar, we banked right and I tried myopically to see out the starboard windows and catch a last glimpse of Canberra. Not much luck, just a few orange lights, but as we levelled on our westerly course I looked again through my own window. The evening light of a cloudy sky is gorgeous and before we ascended through the misty layer I was privileged to see the Brindabellas laid out in grey relief. Rows of grey mountain lines stretched stacked into the distance.

This trip is magical. I settled into reading for a while. I carry my favourite author with me, Patrick O'Brian. A magical writer whose series of 20 novels I am working my way through for the sixth time, and still catching new glimpses of the lives and adventures he portrays. I look up through the port hole and see we are above the clouds. They are smooth but shaped into giant swells like the sea. Funny how water cannot lose it's character. We appear to be skimming across the tops of these giant swells as we surge into the west. Despite our great height there is a thin veil of cloud above us, like a vaporous ceiling, grey and yellow from the distant setting sun we are chasing.

I am mesmerised by the steady roar of the engines and the gentle grey undulations of the cloud plain we are traversing, however unexpectedly the last great swell heralds a change in the landscape. The cloud plain drops away as if we have come across a large valley, the bottom of which is the earth we call home, shrouded in dimness. Strong gold and red light blurs clarity and the plain honest swells become descending, chaotic ranges of cloud drawing the eye downward. The sun sits just beneath the thinning ever present veil above us and the edge of the world.

Towards the end of our journey the sun appears to rest on the horizon without setting. The thin ceiling of cloud has disappeared and a new phenomena presents itself. The blackness of space thrusts itself at anyone who cares to look. There is a rich vein of blue, red and gold spreading either side of the little sun, seemingly flattened by the weight of the void above it. The limitations of the port I am looking through frustrate my appreciation of the true enormity of space though perhaps what I do see is enough for mortal eyes. Blackness of a depth not seem while there is still light in the world. The blackness sparsely pierced with tiny pricks of light from unimaginably distant suns.

How could I possibly come down to earth and leave this magical and utterly hostile world? But come down we did, back into the trials and wonderment of our earth bound world. Nonetheless, for a while, I felt as if I walked 6 inches off the ground.


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