The view from above
We only gained this new perspective in recent times. Since we first climbed down from the trees, we’ve been seeking to once again climb up them. Higher, to a better vantage point to observe our surroundings, both beautiful and hostile. First came extended glimpses from balloons and gliders, before powered flight offered freedoms that had only previously been dreamed of.
So now we sit perched between the hills and the heavens, looking down upon the earth from all manner of heights. Still, rather than occupying some lofty throne we remain guests in an unfamiliar realm. A realm that can turn and bite, or disorientate in an instant. With a fury that only nature can summon.
And yet we routinely step into this world aloft as passenger or pilot and marvel at the sights below. Sunsets and scenery that change not merely with the seasons, but by the moment. Remote red deserts or deep green waves enchant in their own special way, while man-made structures remind us where we ultimately belong. Homes, factories, offices and stadiums all gather on river banks, harbours and rail-lines. Humans congregating and growing as communities, great and small.
An entire town may seem little more than a gathering of dots from a great altitude, while a low level coastal flight may place the cockpit in the eye-line of the resident. Towering skyscrapers that catapult humankind into the skies without ever leaving the ground and the unmistakeable mosaic of suburbia’s red roofs.
And then there are the ghost towns. Once thriving communities of miners or farmers, now long gone. Their buildings remain, blending into the outback sands out of which they grew. Corrugated tin roofing flapping in the breeze and empty door frames, open to the drifting sands. Only the stone walls offer resistance to the onslaught of time and nature.
From above they stand so alone and yet undoubtedly played host to hilarity, hope and heartache in grander times. All around the eye can see nothing but the horizon and dry river beds, still these pioneers staked their claim in this very spot. Now many undoubtedly lie in tiny graves on the small ridge a few miles up the road. One cannot help but wonder what stories these walls once told, now silent and their words lost in time.
All of these communities, great and small are on display to those who fly. Spectacular cities and remote villages are there for those who climb up amongst the clouds. The vista from altitude is special and the speed of flight can offer the extremes of human habitation in a matter of hours; if not minutes. The air offers a life-line not visible to the human eye. It is not the gun-barrel highway or the pot-holed outback track over which wheels rumble. It is a fine thread joined by cleared patches of dirt and asphalt in a farmer’s paddock or on the city limits.
There for the interested traveller, businessman and medical evacuation alike, these landing fields give wings to a land-locked species. In straight lines and over undulations we can launch into that three-dimensional world and fly as far as the fuel tanks, wallet and airspace limitations permit. Uninhibited by the conventional laws of human movement and in an ongoing debate with gravity, flight enables us to see so much more of our world than we could ever have imagined. And the geometry need not always be the efficiency of a straight line from A to B, but the unbridled fun of wandering in the sky and loitering for a longer look.
Still it is important to not become totally lost in the moment. We are venturing where some angels fear to tread. Beside a towering cumulonimbus cloud, the largest aircraft looks like an insignificant gnat. Turbulence, wind and rain can transform the environment so quickly and toss those aloft about with ferocity. And what of those below?
Yes, we are also privileged to fly above the roofs of those living beneath our wings. The homes and businesses that are going about their day at sea level. They are generally oblivious to our presence above unless the noise of an aircraft engine causes them to crane their neck and look skywards. Some will occasionally mutter a curse as well, but that’s OK. We understand their difference in opinion and it should not detract from the care we must take as we transit their lives at a distance.
We must always endeavour to minimise our impact on their world. Whether that is in day to day flying, or in the event of an emergency. It’s best not to cause them to crane their necks unless it is an act of curiosity or envy, for there are those on the ground who would like us all to stay on the ground. We should plan to give their more dense gatherings a little wider berth and ourselves unpopulated options should we need to ‘put down’ in a hurry.
Obviously, these options are not always available, but we should always make an effort. The ability to co-exist makes for a better world, and the fact that our community resides amongst the cumulus doesn’t makes us exempt. We must play our part as fellow land dwellers and respect that the gift of flight comes with some caveats. Compared to the benefits, it is a small price to pay.
To rise into the sky and view the world as our forefathers never could is a modern marvel. They sought out the highest mountains to survey their world, now we survey those same mountains from above. Just as they placed their footsteps carefully upon the rising slopes, we must make our way carefully through the skies. Only when we venture forth with the balance of wonder and respect can we truly draw out the magic of flight and the world about us. Only then can we truly appreciate the view from above.