Birds have the best view of the earth. Well, birds and God, I guess. And humans who fly in planes. Today, I realized that seeing that long line of snow-capped mountain peaks from a plane, stretching into the horizon, reinforces for me that the Rockies really are a range, something that’s just not as obvious when you drive through them. I was similarly overwhelmecd the first time I noticed the Mississippi-Missouri Confluence from the air (the spot where the two massive rivers come together). It is truly the most amazingly beautiful sight from the sky. Maps don’t do it any justice, and you can‘t really see it from the road.
I guess I’d mostly flown westward from St. Louis prior to my first sighting of the Confluence or had never seen it or noticed it previously, but on a flight home from New Jersey we went right over it, just before landing. When I was a kid, when we were returning from a car trip and saw the Gateway Arch from the car, we knew we were home. It was both a peaceful feeling and an excited one. (And sometimes we even had contests to see who would spot it first.) When I see the Confluence from a plane, it’s a similar feeling. I love to travel, but I love to come home.
Of course, travel during my childhood was pretty much limited to car trips to my grandparents’ home in Sikeston, in southeast Missouri. Today, that drive is about a two and a half hour trip, but before Interstate 55 was finished between St. Louis and Memphis, it was more like a four or five hour trip along winding, two-lane highways with top speed limits of 45 mph.
For many of those years, we drove it in our baby blue 1962 Chevy station wagon, although I have a vague memory of taking the train once when I was very young. The car trip itself was never that much fun, and I often slept through it to avoid the motion sickness that plagued me in those years (and that still prevents me from enjoying carnival rides), but arriving on my grandmother’s doorstep vanquished the nausea and headaches the way a nice chocolate souffle after dinner will make a bad day better. I loved those weeks I spent with her, sitting in her lap (even when I was too big to do so, really), rocking in her rocking chairs (she always had a couple), watching her “stories” with her, and playing with my cousins. Leaving was always hard to do.
Today, travel is easier and more comfortable, even by car - better seats, sometimes with lumbar support, high-quality stereo options, air-conditioning, sun roof, working seat belts, better fuel economy, and cup holders. Oh my God, how did we ever survive without cup holders? Air travel is somewhat easier too, even in this era of high security.
I often wonder what my grandmother, who picked cotton, raised five kids during the depression, grew her own food, never saw an ocean, and certainly never flew on a plane, would have thought of seeing the Confluence from the sky. I imagine she would have thought that she had seen the face of God.