One of my earliest memories is looking out of an airplane window as we flew across the country on a family vacation and seeing the patchwork of the landscape. I don't know if my three year old brain interpreted it as a patchwork quilt for surely I could not have known what that was. But somewhere along the line that is how I remember it.
I am reminded of that quilt as I fly across the country today staring out a window, only now I look at it through the eyes of maturity and wisdom that age provides.
Each of those pieces in the pattern represents someone's life and most likely someone's livelihood. Each of the colors represents a carefully placed crop. Some are square, others rectangular or circular, still others with jagged edges or skewed corners.
From the air I cannot determine what the crops are. If I knew what state we were flying over I could imagine that it is corn or alfalfa, wheat or potatoes, apples or walnuts. I could imagine the farmer out working on the field planting seeds, checking the crop, harvesting the final product. These farms are the heart and soul of our nation, providing food to feed people around the country.
As the plane flies on I am greeted by vast plains of brown, gold or even red. These patterns are broken only by rivers cutting through or power lines connecting distant places. A road can often be spotted as they are long and straight except where they weave through a mountainous region. I try to imagine where those roads are going for often there is no visible sign of civilization in my birds eye view of the region. Seeing tiny specks of cars traveling the roads I wonder what it would be like if I were down there. Is it hot? Breezy? Is it scenic or do the miles go on forever without much distinction? As a child I may have travelled some of those roads with my parents during our summer vacations. To divert attention from the boredom of long stretches of road we would try to guess how many miles it would be until the road made a bend and we also might try to guess if that bend would go right or left.
Soon the plane is crossing a rocky area where you can see signs that snow and water centuries ago had cut through etching ledges in the rock forming cliffs and plateaus. A close up view would most likely reveal colors of brown, black, yellow and gold illuminating these cliffs. What water may flow there now looks like a tiny river from up here.
In the distance you can spot a snow covered mountain top in the distance, signs of a late falling snow or evidence of a very high elevation where snow doesn't melt until the summer if ever at all.
A newer sight as we head west is a view of large solar fields dotting the fields and hills. On close look you see a large, populated area which may get its energy from these panels. Such a view did not exist when I crossed the country those 56 years ago. While I understand that we must find and use new sources for energy, a part of me wishes it did not come at the expense of losing the natural beauty of our fields, hills and mountains.
As we cross the Rocky Mountains my mind goes back to those trips where we drove over them. From the air they are magnificent with their jagged tops and deep valleys. The majesty of the peaks where wispy trails of snow abound. On the ground I know that they rise quite high in elevation and are more beautiful and grand than what we witness from above. I remember one trip over the Rockies on which we experienced many climate changes in the course of a day... From cold to rain to hail and finally giving way to sun yet, by morning we awoke to two inches of snow.
As we go farther west the landscape becomes more familiar, some landmarks easier to see as I have called the west coast home for nearly four decades. The high peaks of the Rockies gives way to a bit more desert and less grandiose hills. Summer turns the hills brown. Green will be spotted on lawns, parks, golf courses and occasional orchards.
Over the course of seven hours I have travelled from East to a West, flying over places I may have visited as a child. To go cross country back then would take weeks but gave the opportunity to see our country up close and personal. I wish I had taken more notice then of our great nation and realized how the landscape is important as it forms the backbone of our lives. As an adult I can certainly better appreciate it. I may not be able to travel this vast country by ground the way I did as a child. A part of me wonders what it would be like to experience the kind of travel I did in my childhood and youth. There are so many "hole in the wall" places where you can truly meet the "local people".
Flying affords us the opportunity to select a destination, arriving more quickly to an area we want to visit, hop in a car and explore some of what makes our country special. The roads and scenery, the businesses and farms and most of all the people who make up the fabric of the intricate landscape of this great nation.
[originally written in October 2015]