• Vol. 07
  • Chapter 04
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Jotting Notes on an Airplane

This summer I spent a few days in the American southwest visiting two of Utah’s five National Parks. On the flight home I jotted some notes about the trip: there are 16 million Mormons worldwide; the canyons had nine formations over 150 million years; Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was filmed in Zion; national parks are one of the few places stateside to view dark skies; roadside “gem and rock shops” also sell dinosaur bones and petrified wood.

Suddenly a flash outside the window: lightening. Every few seconds, the clouds below us were illuminated. “Isn’t this how Emilia Earhart was lost?” I thought. I gave a single-finger poke to my cousin Margaret directing her to the window. Her worried expression didn’t help.

With every flash, I thought of us exploding, and could almost hear the high-pitched whistle as we plummeted from the sky. I imagined people watching a white funnel of smoke on their TV, as the evening news reported our loss. I had recently read something about planes and lightening, but at the moment couldn’t recall. I looked around the plane and focused on an athletic guy in Patagonia shorts and a Zion tee-shirt. “No way is he about to perish,” I thought. It worked until the window again lit up.

In an effort to remain rational, I thought about how much I’ve always loved these storms. As a kid I’d sit on the back porch of a three-decker and watch lightning strikes with my grandfather from folding beach chairs. I was fearless back then. On stormy summer nights, I’d lie in bed counting each second until a clap of thunder would shake the house.

Then I thought our first night in Utah. Just before 9:00 p.m., we pulled off Rt. 80 and beneath an illuminated Chevron sign had a roast turkey dinner at a picnic table. There was a warm breeze as we sat recounting our first day of travel.


Jotting Notes on an Airplane

With a faint bit of daylight remaining, silhouettes of the mountains surrounded us. In the distance were rumbles of thunder and streaks of lightning. Eating outside I felt free in a way that only summer and a fluttering tee-shirt can allow. We had not yet seen a sunrise from the Rim Trail at Bryce Point, or a starry sky from Kolob Canyon. We hadn’t experienced the rush of fear along Angel’s Landing, or right afterwards, the satisfaction of a cold beer. But in the end, it was still this simple alfresco dinner with its approaching thunderstorm that returned as my fondest memory.

Emerging from such thoughts, I realized that we must have passed the storm. Immediately relieved, I continued with my notes: “standard commercial airplanes are designed to take lightning strikes,” and looked out the oval window, half-disappointed in the blackness.