One thing I love to do in the late fall and winter is watch the sunrises after the time changes on days when high cloud stream in from the west. Their filaments and strands stretch across the sky from horizon to horizon in ever-changing groups of gentle shapes and sizes. As the sun goes down the colors change from white to pink and purples then finally to grey disappearing into the dark sky and the glow of the city lights. Those sites really relax me and also make me think of all types of things. Other things like life and time and the course of one’s life.
One thing I see in those skies, as I did just the other day, are the contrails of high-flying jets cutting through the thin layers of those heavenly sheets far above. They cut like arrows through the smooth cirrus arching above my head. They are seen for a while then they fade away or simply disappear as the atmosphere changes. But as they go, more come back as the transcontinental air traffic always surges from coast to coast leaving new trails through the sky. They are like the cliché “times arrow” in a way; they are a symbol of the passage of time and of the path our lives briefly take through eternity, and then fade away to make way for the lives of others.
At the point of each contrail is an airplane filled with people going to who knows where. When I see a plane with its contrail behind it I wonder who is there sitting in those seats. Are they tourists, consultants, college kids going home, or a grandparent going to see a child and a grandchild? Then I remember that I too have sat many times on in those seats. And sometimes I have wondered if someone on the ground, watching a sunset like me, has looked up to the wonders above and seen those same planes and asked himself who was up there looking down? Surely many things we can see in nature are a reminder of our place in the world, and these streaks of condensation miles above our eyes are no different indeed. We can look up into the skies, and other places, and be reminded of our own lives.
Finally there is the sheer beauty of these lines in the skies. They catch my eye when they sometimes make symbols above my head. Like one time there were two contrails making what looked like a Christian cross or when a group of contrails on another day looked like an unfilled-in tick-tack-toe grid scribbled as if by the hand of God in the sky. And another simply random series of crisscrossing lines far above that looked interesting on its own, even though it was like nothing around us on the ground: an abstract picture painted above my head. So above us is art, all artist who are jets flying miles above.
So when you see a contrail growing above you late in the afternoon pause for a bit and spend some time underneath its arc. In a little while there may be something wonderful on hand to view amidst the backdrop of the soft palette of a winter sunset on a cold, sunny winter day.