On our transit into Houston the clouds were on fire.
On the far horizon, I could see another plane hanging in the sky, surrounded by an orange entourage of clouds, their texture that of monkeybread, all bulge and wallop.
[Sidenote: As we left Atlanta, I saw three planes in the sky, arranged in a straight line, all haloed by the clouds. They looked like nothing so much as warning lights attached to mountain-high poles. For what purpose? I have no idea. But the disconcerting image stuck in my head, regardless of the lack of logic.]
The clouds were low. On the approach we took to Hobby, the plane passes directly over Houston proper and on a clear day I can pinpoint the intersection closest to my house and, if I’m quick, the house itself. But now the clouds had layered themselves just above the ground like a pastry. And through that pastry I could see the fires of the oven.
Ah, so this is light pollution!
The clouds were traps for light. They cast shadows from within, the outermost layers curved into darkness, and we were descending into the glow.
It reminded me most of Flash Gordon, the 1980 version with people playing Flash Gordon and Dale Arden who you’ve never heard of but which is the most awesome piece of awesomeness every and not just because of the Queen soundtrack. All of which, I admit, is a bit of a tangent.
But what the clouds reminded me most of was the travel portion of the movie, after Dr. Zarkov tricks Flash and Dale into accompanying him on a journey to save the world and the rocket he built travels through space in a universe completely different from our own. One part of their journey involved traveling through the Sea of Fire which appeared to be clouds lit up from the inside if said clouds were ink dropped into a glass of hot water.
That’s what landing in Houston was like.
Here’s what being attacked by an army of Hawkmen is like.
I don’t know what it is about me and flying in planes, but the experience always inspires me. It has to do with seeing the world from a different angle, one that, naturally, we’d never see. Why are the roofs of all those warehouses so boring?
Then again, I find myself mesmerized by the fractal patterns of subdivisions, the roads curling into roads, the houses peeking through the trees, how each family down there sees its home and its neighborhood as unique.
And the clouds, even when they aren’t on fire, are an alien landscape. When the cover is thick, they blanket the visible world with another, stranger world. All those hills and valleys! And when there’s movement between cloud layers, thick columns – no, mountains – stretch upwards for miles and it becomes undeniable that humans live in an ocean of air and that we, like certain shellfish, like sea slugs, like sea urchins, are restricted to the tiniest layer of that ocean.