From the air

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There are brief moments of blinding clarity that flit into your consciousness like moths and explode with magic dust. They occur in strange places and at strange times, but in my experience they tend to occur at least 30 000 feet above the ground.

I believe this is linked to the very physical nature of our bodies and the in-built limitations on our cognition. We are used to being able to extend our abilities – we are androids who can see far, speak over great distance, move faster than our physical bodies allow – but in the air we are entirely useless – unequipped and unevolved.

We have spent millions of years of evolution specialising in our ability to perceive our immediate surroundings and recognise patterns, threats, collaborators and potential partners. This has led to our brains working in very specific, very specialised ways.

To wit, we know that there are 7 billion people alive on the planet right now, but we have absolutely no way of visualising that number. It is entirely beyond us, despite our confidence that this is an irrefutable fact. Our brains cannot do it.

Similarly the perspective we gain when we are physically above the earth, suspended in a magic tube, is astounding. The hidden patterns and utilitarian beauty of our transport system are laid bare. From the air there are no potholes, no red lights, no slow drivers and no beggars at the traffic lights, making you feel like a worthless piece of shit for spending R40 on a sandwich.

Life from up here is abstracted. The cars move, but they move slowly, driven by empty vessels into which I can pour my own meaning and create my own noise. People go to work, lovers have clandestine meetings under the trees, hearts beating and eyes magnetic, children go to school, hearses drag bodies down into the ground – the system works, because I see it as a whole.

The same beauty finds a home in the convenient nature of the footpaths across unused land. From the ground, their multifarious routes are a mystery, as people trudge from home to work, from work to home. From up here, they skip home to their families and kiss their children on the cheek, they stalk the ground and grind sorrow under their heels. Life and death and everything is mapped out in human laziness, or is that inventiveness?

As I go further the rivers reveal themselves, cutting through the rusty dust of the Karoo. Through nothing more than erosion, rain and gravity the most beautiful lines are created, ribbons thrown by a precocious child.

And I note those wonders, true wonders, and hold them close. And I know that they are wondrous not because some Being decreed that all rivers should flow thusly, that gravity should work the way it does, but precisely because they have done so with no intervention at all. Not one guiding hand has touched an oxbow twist or daring double back – these things have happened. They have Happened – with no sentience or idea of what beauty could even be.

The clouds dot and scud. They meet over mountains and split into their constituent parts. They show me new lands and their dynamic, doomed geography – mine and mine alone. There are mountains floating above the earth as light as a feather we have never seen. To see their hefty peaks, not their drab underbellies as our ancestors were doomed to for years, is a privilege I refuse to downplay.

The hidden valleys perched on top of mountains call to me, ask me to find their doorways and bask. Bask in their very middle as their arms, laid down millions of years ago, hold me close and buttress me.


In the rare times it is revealed to me, the Beauty is almost too much.