Peak Experience


When I lived in Honolulu, over time I grew to take the visual for granted. That hit me one evening as I was taking out the garbage. Over my head, spread out like a splash of spilled paint, a furious crimson sunset vaulted across the sky.

Good thing I took out the garbage.

But that’s the way we get, isn’t it? Workaday world with an accretive ho-hum factor. What was wondrous becomes worn, routine and eventually, just another thing to do. If that’s the thing you always do.

Or maybe you’re a victim of circumstance. Used to marvel at a once-in-a-blue moon view of the gravelly dark volcano spine of Iceland during an Atlantic crossing or the blue sea ice sprawl of the Greenland fjords. Seldom did the weather or the route allow such a view, but if you were in back, you didn’t see it. That’s because the one time I made a P.A. telling the passengers to look off the right wingtip and behold the marvel below, it was only a matter of seconds before the flight attendant purser crashed through the cockpit door, livid.

“They all lifting their window shades to look out the windows!” she bellowed.

The horror. Not passengers looking out the windows at an incredible view; rather, the bloated and reddened face of the flight attendant chewing my ass. “Now they’re all going to want stuff! That’s why we’re running the movie!”

But still. This is where I’m a bad dog: I still will tell you when there’s something wondrous to see. Like yesterday–and here’s my not noticing the sunset till I take out the trash–I was hassling with an air traffic control clearance, a balky fuel boost pump, and crosschecking the weather radar when I happened to notice this right in front of my face:

Mt. St. Helen’s north face–blown off in 1981, buried in recent snow but the story’s clear enough, isn’t it? Stupid me for being heads-down, just another departure with a little fuel imbalance and navigation hassle thrown in. But there was more.

St. Helens’ big sister, Ranier looking stately as ever with a 14,410 stature of quiet dignity.  Almost missed that too, but truly, she’s hard to miss.

Especially if you’re allowed to look. Who’s stopping you? Well, who’s stopping me besides me? What is it about chores that take your focus until someone tells you to open the window shade and look? And life goes on nonetheless.

Further south: Hood!

God we have a lot of pointy stuff in this country, don’t we? In fact, take a look at the carpet of rocks that is the Sierras. I can’t even imagine the cajones of those who crossed this monstrous tract on foot.

And it’s not just the peakish stuff–we have magnificent ditches, too. The Grand Canyon sneaks up on you too, embarassing those who don’t notice until the trash is full that there are wondrous things silently waiting to suck the breath out of you.

And let’s nod to civilization. Now and again, a concrete ridge pops out of an undercast with man made peaks and valleys of vertical beauty:

Even if there’s nothing to see outside–there’s still something! Like these clouds which, from seven miles above, look more like sand dunes than anything, sprawling five hundred miles in all directions.

And you want dunes? We have real dunes too. If you were on the ground, this would be a nasty sandstorm in Arizona, wouldn’t it? But from the heaven’s eye view, this is a beautifully painted, delicate marzipan.

Is that just life or what? Isn’t it so that there’s much furious and breathtaking life spinning by below that we don’t even notice while we have our head buried in work and hobbies and distractions and stuff?

Sure, there’s always the office. Always work. But.

There’s more, too, isn’t there? Wheeling by silently, below, waiting but not caring if you look or not–it’s your loss, right?

Yes, that’s 619 knots–over 700 miles per hour.

Life comes at you fast, doesn’t it? Or more realistically, goes by way fast–whether you’re looking or not. Lift the shades, for god’s sake. Screw the fat woman yelling inside to close the shades and watch the damn movie. Worry less about the boost pump–we can balance fuel later–and take a breath between radio negotiations with air traffic control to look down.

It’s all going on, and going by, my friend. Have a quick look–because that’s about all you’ll get before it’s gone.

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7 Responses to “Peak Experience”

  1. Happy Holidays to my favorite pilot and his family!

    Brad

  2. Your shot of Rainier reminded me of the first time I rode jumpseat (ATC) into SEA on a 767 (nice big window for the jumpseater). The captain requested and got a visual descent below PCA and used it to get come within just a few miles of Rainier. It was amazing. My window was full of mountain. Quite a sight. Needless to say, this was well over ten years ago.

  3. Luc Coulombe Says:

    No, thank YOU for sharing captain Manno.

    Here’s wishing you and your family a Merry Christmas.

    Luc

  4. blackwatertown Says:

    Good thoughts and pictures. Thanks for the past year of them.

  5. Chris Felcyn Says:

    Just discovered your blog. What a treat. Thank you, Captain.

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