The joy of views from above

By Ingrid Fetell Lee


Adulthood has conditioned me to an aisle seat (all that water downed to prevent dehydration demands proximity to a loo) but my inner child always wants a window. This morning, with the luxury of both, I was comfortable and free to recall the simple joy of staring out an airplane window.

Often I find joy in things that others might not, but here I feel I’m on safely universal ground. After the widespread success of Yann Arthus Bertrand’s La Terre vue du Ciel and the 12,422 image hits for the search terms “from plane window” on Flickr, I think we can say there’s something many people find joyful about looking down on earth from thousands of feet up.

Surely there is the magic element that I mentioned in my post on kites, the feeling of soaring up and away from earth’s gravity. Literally, in the moment of takeoff and as we find ourselves above the clouds, we realize we are temporarily transcending earth. But there is also a subtler kind of transcendence that accompanies such a radical change in perspective. In essence, it’s really just a very sudden, very simple scale shift, as if the earth very quickly shrank Alice-in-Wonderland style before our eyes. We are transcending ourselves, the narrow prism of perception and attention we operate within, and the newly detached relationship between ourselves and our earth gives rise to all sorts of transformative feelings and thoughts.

There is nostalgia too. As I watch the cars shrink to marching ants, the roads to graphite lines, the backyards to an abstract pattern of greens, I can’t help but recall my first experiences of these things, my nose pressed up against the cold porthole, mesmerized. But in a landscape as varied as Earth, there is always something new to notice. These days, it’s the swimming pools that captivate me, the turquoise kidneys, oases, reservoirs of summer joys to come.

Thank you to Flickr user sharwest for this evocative image.

June 2nd, 2009


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