This morning I saw the moon rise in the west.
I’m back on the road again and I have to say each time I head back to China it gets a little bit tougher. The last two weeks were spent watching the ponies, something I’ve now done for 17 autumns, covering the household responsibilities while My Lovely Wife is off in Texas catering to the needs of the horse showing masses. I remember the early years – it was tough work and I hated being alone. Now though the work is a breeze and the time spent on my own turned into something I came to enjoy. I won’t say I look forward to either, but neither condition is as devastating as it used to be.
This departure was tough; we had all of 16 hours to catch up between her getting off one plane and me getting on another. It seems like the payoff for a trip a quarter of the way around the world should be more than that, but these days I will gladly take what I can get.
So once again I found myself at the Sunport working my way through security, boarding and trying to jam my roll around bag into the woefully inadequate overhead bin. As we taxied away from the terminal, an oversized orange full moon was halfway set on the west mesa. As always, it appeared larger than life in the context of its surroundings and it was a sublime experience to see it slowly disappear as the plane lined up on the runway. We took off into the east, heading into the early dawn light and arced off to the south, passing over the mysterious structures out in the far reaches of the base – dugouts for nuclear weapons, that giant trellis built all of wood for testing electric pulses on aircraft – all the weird Cold War relics that can be seen on every departure from Albuquerque.
As we climbed into the west the Moon slowly began to reappear above the spot where I had just watched it sink, getting ever higher as we gained altitude and so an improving angle of view. Still bright orange, I was able to watch it return to the exact proportion I had seen from the runway, this time rising into a layer of cerulean blue capped with the brightest pink brought now by the sun that was beginning to peak about the Sandias. The colors were electric, and the moon bathed in them. As we leveled off and turned to the northeast I lost sight of it just as the immutable celestial mechanics took charge and began to drag it back down below the horizon. I guess if you have to leave your home and the ones you love, you may as well be sent off with a show as grand as that.
There are few positive things above leaving your home at 4:20 to catch a 6:25 flight. In fact, there is only one I can that think of and you can only avail yourself of it if you happen to be flying over the dawn lit southwest. Leaving in the dark and traveling with the sun trying to catch your tail, you get the benefit of seeing the tortured geology of New Mexico and Arizona in the best possible light. And in this case I mean the softest salmon light that seems designed perfectly for complimenting the mishmash of canyons, rims and mountains that comprise our corner of the nation. Sometimes we’re lucky enough to fly directly over the Grand Canyon, today we were north of that route but the sights were still incomparable. The plane moves fast enough to keep the sun at bay for a while, allowing the splendor to go on for an hour or more. At the same time it’s slow enough so that you get to see every twisting rocky ridgeline change from gray to pink to rose to white, as though illuminated by one of those slowly turning color wheels that we used to shine on our silver Christmas tree. In New Mexico, the rocks stand bright against a pale gray landscape, devoid of forest. In Arizona, they are set off against the black velvet of endless stretches of pine. Near the northern end of the canyon lands, long thin needles of what must be rock shot off to the northeast away from the drainage of some desert stream. Imagine paint poured wet on the hood of a car and then spread back by the wind. As you enter California, the land changes and the Sierras rise up, capped by early season snow. And now the sun, availing itself of its superior speed rises higher in the sky than we are and the show ends.
So here I am again, sitting in the lounge looking out the same window at the same set of planes waiting to take people off and about. I’ve started a tradition of taking the same picture out that same window, wondering if anything about that scene will ever change. I doubt it will.