Monday, June 23, 2014

Summer Solstice above Chicago

At first, when I realized that I would spend the day of the summer solstice working - and end it on an airplane - I was disappointed.  Though the summer solstice has never felt quite as significant as the winter I do always think that I should mark it better than I have.

But this day in Ohio would represent the end of a 10-week gauntlet of research and travel.  I spent a few hours walking with my videographer, Greg, first in the sleepy Saturday suburbs of Columbus and then among the strollers at the Creekside Jazz and Blues Festival in Gahanna.  I was asking people about why we have a government, what its for, what it should do, what it shouldn't do - and from there into a meandering conversation about collective responsibilities, resentments, power, discourse and freedom.

After a week of this, my little brown notebook contained notes on 89 people we'd encountered - Greg's cameras and hard drives contained a couple hundred gigabytes of video and audio recordings to be reviewed and transcribed.

Around 2 pm, I wrapped up a last interview with a trio of pretty and optimistic college girls.  It was time to stop gathering data and turn toward synthesis and analysis.  Besides, Germany was playing Ghana in the World Cup, and we had just enough time to get to the airport, drop off the car, pass through security and find a bar where the match was on.

So we got our beers and watched the Ghanians hold the Germans at bay, while Greg loaded the day's video files onto my laptop.

After the satisfying match, Greg got on a plane bound for California, while I worked on my laptop.  Tornadoes in Illinois delayed my flight for an hour, then another hour.  I was at a gate at the end of the terminal and through the towering wall of windows I could see the solstice sun sloping down onto a plain of hangars and equipment and aircraft.  It was certainly no Chaco Canyon or Stonehenge - just a scene of Late Oil Age Utilitarianism.

Later, after the storms had spent themselves or moved on, I was on the airplane.  It was a couple of hours before midnight and we were approaching Chicago from the south and east.  The aircraft passed out of a layer of clouds into the most spectacular sky I have ever seen.  We were traveling along an enormous, curving wall of billowing thunderheads - like a towering amphitheater of the gods.  The great folds and cleavages and billows were alternately blued by the darkening night and bronzed by the sunset that raged to the west.  Dark blue sky above green and yellow with slashes of translucent cloud - and orange lava flowed upon the horizon.  But as huge and imposing as the thunderheads appeared, they were dwarfed by the cloud-structure that rose up from behind them.  It was a vast mushroom, whose stem rose up from their midst miles to the south, and then spread its umbrella cap above us - painted scarlet and rose by the sun from some even more distant horizon.

. . . and the setting of this sun took my breath away - which is a pretty good solstice gift . . . 

Friends at home, celebrating midsummer night.