there is a plethora of information about contrails. and when i say a plethora, i mean a lot. you can glean all kinds of knowledge – the kinds of planes that emit contrails, the weather necessary, specific atmospheric conditions, the altitude likely for formation, the effect on climate, additives to the engine that preclude the emission of a contrail. three kinds: short-lived, persistent non-spreading, persistent spreading. tons of information about something to which we pay scant attention.
sitting on the adirondack chairs on our back patio sipping wine early in the evening, we both leaned back against last year’s pillows. the sun streamed at us through the gap between our house and the garage and we gazed at the blue blue sky at this end of an unusually warm early spring day.
it’s not unusual for us to see planes – our home is located between two major airports. milwaukee’s mitchell airport is to our north and chicago’s o’hare is to our south. the only times i truly remember the skies being quiet were right after september 11th (2001) and in the earliest days of the pandemic (2020). otherwise, we regularly have planes on final, planes circling, planes practicing aerobatics, helicopters big and small, air ambulance helicopters, helicopters transporting dignitaries, helicopters doing rescue maneuvers over the lake, news helicopters. add in drones and it’s busy airspace. because we are who we are, we always ponder who might be flying over, where they are going, what they are thinking as they look down, where home is for them.
there was this one day – years ago – when we were walking along the lakefront. we looked up to see a fiery flying object moving at a fast rate of speed over the lake. very high in altitude it made an abrupt turn to the east and disappeared into the distant sky. to this day we talk about that, wondering. we have absolutely no idea what it was; it seemed propelled with this fiery exhaust. we googled, but to no avail. who were they? where were they going? what were they thinking? where was home?
in 1986 i was living in florida. if we stood on our driveway and looked up in to the eastern sky we could witness the space shuttles as they were launched into the atmosphere. the contrails were fiery, smoky vapor, and the anticipation always left us marveling. it’s astounding to think about taking off into space. the day of the challenger space shuttle dawned just as thrilling. we planned around the launch so that we might again bear witness to this scientific achievement, these explorers. but, as we stood on the driveway and peered at the sky, it was obvious – even to us 130 miles across the state – that something was amiss. the contrails were wrong. and, in those moments, breaking down into tears, the contrails told a different story.
there isn’t a contrail that goes by now that i don’t have a throwback to that profound day late in january in 1986.
we are all explorers. we have varying tasks of courage, summits that require us to trust ourselves, to trust others. i can’t help but think of this every time i board an airplane, every time i drive a car on a road with rules for all drivers, every time i partake in a community, every time i try something unknown-to-me or dream a new dream.
we all leave contrails behind us, though the vapor trail itself is not necessarily visible. what will the answers be when people wonder who we were, where we were going, what we were thinking, where our home was. were our contrails fiery or short-lived, thin-lined or ever-spreading? were they full of hot air and blather? were they generous, kind-hearted, remembered with a softness?
i think i would choose to be a persistent spreading contrail, eventually a lacy cirrus cloud. floating out-out-out.
read DAVID’s thoughts this TWO ARTISTS TUESDAY