Early dusk, the latter dawn.
“So soon as early Dawn the rosy fingered shone forth at the island, we roamed over the length thereof .”
The Odyssey, Book XII
It sneaks up on you: one moment it’s full afternoon daylight on the west coast; climb to 41,000 feet and blast into the eastern sky at 500 knots across the ground–then here she comes. The sky tires, breathes out, dismisses the brilliance and in it’s place a striation like a sideways rainbow drapes the earth.
You know from the basics of atmospherics and sunlight that the thickest layer of atmosphere hugging the earth carries the ball for the entire sky: thick, dense air, roiled up with moisture and heat and particulate pollutants and ash and the crud of the day sit fat atop the earth and reflect the sunset behind you in the layered band ahead and below.
The day doesn’t necessarily go down without a fight. From above, the glowering of the day’s heat on broad expanses of badlands lifts whatever moisture there is in the swirl of adiabatic and orographic torture of the air and turns it violent, raking the earth–a sideshow from way up top where we sit. Here the air is at -50C and whatever moisture exists is such wispy-thin lenticular gauze that we don’t even use the engine anti-ice: the ice crystals are too fine to accumulate.
And even the towering violence below yields to the encroaching dusk, losing the heat of the retreating sun and collapsing like colossal waterfall over the tired landscape below.
Seems there’s always that notch in the middle of the sky, the sinking vee as if we were a boat cutting a wake, backlit by the sinking sun. Almost pointing the way ahead: here’s where you go, here’s where you sink into the darkness. Remember it; you don’t stay aloft forever any more than that towering storm that fell apart and returned to earth in a torrent. And you’ll do it in the dark–so remember the colors.
Behind, it’s an angry passage, a red lip drawn thin and tight, black above indigo, descending on the horizon as the sun races off to the west dragging the day with it.
Nothing easy in this leave taking, in fact it’s a raging morality play: go big, go horizon to horizon with a broad brush and a flaming palette but in the end, as always, darkness wins.
And here’s where the cockpit lights come up and the warm instrument glow emerges from the shadow of the the sun’s brilliance spilling into the windowed gazebo, the light fleeing west with the rest of the day. The widowed earth makes do, light reduced to a scattered carpet of jeweled arteries, the highways, the traffic so far below you can’t see it in the day, but long beaded strands at night connect the towns like spindly glowing veins creeping along, relentless.
Fair enough: can’t see the ground, nor can anyone seven miles below see us chalking the sky with a miles-long contrail of white vapor spun out like cotton candy in one long strand, pointing to where we’re going, showing where we came from. Guess we’ll do our thing separately, earth and sky, because the light’s gone but the spirit’s still flying. We’ll find our way back, find our way back to the earth, all soon enough–that much is written in stone.
But for now, darkness or dawn, we sail on.