Sunday, October 14, 2007

On The Way Home

I know it's Sunday and I'm home now, but I wanted to share with you the blog post I began in a little spiral notebook on the way home Friday. I was delighted that we flew from Zimbabwe during the daytime--so often on overseas flights one travels at night when you can't see anything. Loving geography as I do, I kept my nose plastered to the window during most of our ten-hour flight from Harare to London. I can't tell you how short those ten hours seemed!

I most anticipated flying over the Sahara Desert and it didn't disappoint. Every glance out my window revealed a different Sahara--a sort of topographical schizophrenia. There were great sand storms, dust rising for miles above the earth. I saw mountains, plateaus, massive black rocks, and curious white pockmarks. There were a multitude of designs in the sand, like a child's finger drawings: straight furrows like plowed fields, round bubble clouds, diamond-shaped ridges that reminded me of the pattern on my grandmother's worn couch, and lunar-style surfaces.

From my vantage point I could see ancient riverbeds as brown, cracked, and dry as the heels of a Zimbabwean bushwoman. Apricot mists of dust hanging low over barren valleys. A stray wisp of cloud. A road, needle thin and orange, notable only because of its inflexibility. Dunes the shape of continents and the size of small countries, vast carmel canyons and dramatic cliffs, deceptively smooth peach-colored expanses like frozen lakes in a Michigan winter. Brown fingers clawing toward the western horizon. Giant chicken scratches from a land beyond the beanstalk. Papaya-colored waves on a stormy sea of sand, the veins on an old woman's hands, broccoli floweretts of stone.

The seatbelt light came on with a ding as a blanket of taupe clouds muted the landscape below to a boring putty. Before long, the clouds thinned and the seatbelt light popped off. I'm quite certain I spied a plateau the shape of a stegasaurus--the jolly kind, round and friendly like an illustration from a toddler's book.

At last we popped out over a sheet metal gulf on our way to the Tunisian coastline. A large frighter below looked no bigger than the smallest Battleship gamepiece.

Within minutes we were back over land again, a patchwork of browns crisscrossed by etch-a-sketch roads. At long last, cities and villages became visible. We flew over dotted fields and terraced farms. Milk chocolate terrain gave way to a startling dark chocolate canyon. A green lake nestled among rugged hills, its tributaries wandering off to become lost in the valleys, its surface turning white as frosting in the changing sunlight as we passed by.

And then we were over the sandy beaches of the African coast, the Mediterranean waters close to shore a vivid blue-green. October is typically a stormy time in the Mediterranean, and though the clouds were thin, turbulence forced us to 40,000 feet.

Soon we reached the island of Sardinia, water filling in the gaps of its fringed coastline. It's a rugged land, dark as potting soil, smoothing out to a gentle northern coast.

We crossed the European border at Nice on the French Riviera, its beach barely discernable though I know it to be rocky from the afternoon I spent lounging there twenty-six years ago this month, I believe. I've not had a glimpse of France since my semester in Italy with Harding University.

Like a blanket tossed in a heap on the floor, the French Alps mounded below us. I spotted a rainbow among the thin clouds and a mountain peak pushing through the mist. A smaller airplane left its jet trail as it crossed our path far below.

Eventually, jagged treeless peaks rose high above green river valleys, their rocky crags packed with last winter's snow. Finally, low thick clouds hugged the earth like a mantle and only occassionally did a mountain top peek its head out.

The clouds refused to part so that I could see Grenoble, Lyon, Macon, Auxerre, Vaux-le-Vicomte, or even Paris and the English Channel as the onflight map indicated. I couldn't even view London until we dove through the cloud cover just before landing.

Five hours at Heathrow--including a three-hour flight delay--allowed us to reacclimate to Western culture as we enjoyed Starbucks drinks, piped-in contemporary music, a purchased USA Today newspaper, Dr. Pepper for Adrian and Brian, and pizza at an Italian restaurant near our gate.

We were gratefully, brilliantly, amazingly, definitely on our way home.

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