Monday, September 12, 2011

Sky Full of Contrails

When I was in junior high, we had a textbook titled Contrails, a reading textbook, I think, that opened the doors to many stories and led me on to the kind of reading that developed into a Ph.D. in English.  While I was working on that Ph.D., teaching at DSU and taking classes at USD, I spent a lot of time driving between Sisseton, Madison, and Vermillion, putting many miles on my little Honda Civic, watching the contrails expand across the vast South Dakota sky.  Everyone going somewhere.

On September 11, 2001, my morning class composition class at DSU was interrupted by a student who was notorious for either sleeping in class or browsing the internet.  "Someone flew a plane into the World Trade Center," he announced.  It was the first classroom contribution he'd ever made, and I admonished him, told him to get off the internet and get back to work.

Later I learned what was unfolding in New York.  Later yet that day I got in my car and as I drove down to Vermillion for class, I noticed how empty the sky was, how from brim to brim the blue curve of the sky was empty, unlined.  It felt to me, now full of the knowledge of the collapsed towers, the crashed plane, the burning pentagon, that the vast criss-crossing of contrails was a web that had come unraveled, a basket broken through.  It felt a little as though I were suddenly working without a net, that some woven underpinning to my life had come undone.

Contrails over South Dakota, 9-11-11
But yesterday, as the wife and I returned from Sioux Falls, where before the half-marathon we stood in restless silence to remember those who fell from the web of life ten years ago, I noticed the sky again.  Blue sky, cloudless, crossed again and again by the contrails left by airplanes carrying their trusting passengers from one end of the country to another.  I leaned back in my seat, looked over at my wife driving me home again, and felt as though that web, that basket, were being woven again, that it was being mended.

2 comments:

CassieMarie said...

I don't know if you've seen this: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/space/contrail-effect.html
It was a part of a program NOVA did called "Dimming the Sun" and it came about because of a temperature increase in the few days following September 11th caused by the lack of contrails.

JN said...

One of my students mentioned that they'd heard a story Monday on NPR about the empty sky on that day and the days following. Thanks for the link, Cassie.