Modern air travel is an extraordinary complex system. The endless series of arrivals and departures at any large airport is a carefully choreographed dance. Unfortunately this system can be easily snarled when the process is disturbed.
The first sign of trouble was our aircrew securing the cabin for arrival early. They stopped the last beverage service and hurriedly gathered the trash long before we began descent. The reason quickly became apparent as towering thunderheads appeared all around us and the aircraft began to bounce and shudder in the unstable winds. Despite the promise of worse our landing in Houston proceeded without issue. Rolling down a wet runway and noting the pools of water covering the grass between the taxiways, clearly the airport had been visited by the heavy rains of those thunderstorms.
Next problem? No gate was available and we spend 45 minutes sitting on a taxiway waiting our turn at a gate for disembarking. I have plenty of time to observe that puddled water and the low slung engines of a 737 can create fascinating little vortexes of swirling water just below the engine intake. We were not worried, we had a five hour layover in our schedule and being late to the gate was not an issue. Many of our fellow passengers were not quite so relaxed, fretting about tight connections and missed flights.
I normally get on an airplane about once or twice a year. This summer that will be three trips in two months, with just a few weeks in-between. Two of those hops will be back and forth to the mainland, a five hour flight from the islands.
I am on the first leg of the last trip as I write this, the third jump across the pond in as many weeks. The first destination is Seattle and a family reunion to celebrate my parent’s 50th wedding anniversary. Then it is off to Alaska to do some fishing and bring the boat down the coast to the Puget Sound for the winter.
As I look down on the expanse of blue water my mind wanders. Perhaps the upcoming boating expedition has lent a nautical meme to my thoughts… I think of those who sailed into that blue with no idea of what lay ahead. The explorers who set course into the vast Pacific not knowing if they would find a reef the hard way in the night.
I consider the ancient Polynesians who chose a course without a compass or chart, navigating by the stars and waves. Their journeys would last for weeks or months, possibly much longer if the winds did not cooperate. Using hard earned knwolege they would locate the tiny specks of land scattered acrooss this vast expanse of blue.
Here I sit in relative comfort. Perhaps a bit confined, a small seat amoung many others, but I need endure for only a few hours. I sit at the window and watch the small clouds slide by below, trying not to look at the clock. One can look at the map, but somehow fails to convey the reality of that seemingly endless blue outside my window. I imagine a double hulled canoe, with coconut sails, upon those waves 34,000ft below.