A first journey through the clouds, a formative memory
One of my earliest memories is that of my very first trip in an aircraft. I was about 5 years of age or so, and the scene from the planes window was a vivid one. The plane took off from my home town of San Diego with a flash of runway and a roar of noise from the engines. Just at liftoff I could feel the weight against me as the nose of the plane lifted up from the runway and after words for some minutes as we climbed over ocean beach California. The plane must have taken off to the west into the wind because I remember seeing to the north the homes and the shoreline of the Ocean and Pacific beach communities, and just a bit north of that, my home in La Jolla. Below and to the north, surf and breakers did their battle of with the ages and the elements trying to where down that shoreline. Had I been at the beach that day, or any other day I could have smelled the sulpher salty smell of the foamy surf. Out in front was the vast blue of the pacific and just then the plane went through the cloud deck that often lingers just off the beach in Southern California? What a shock! The aircraft was in a fog that whipped past the planes wings and the window and just as suddenly I could see the first cloud tops as my plane broke through the top of the clouds. The billowy white cloud tops where entrancing as it reached towards the blue above. The aircraft was in a valley of clouds as it flew through the sky and then again suddenly through fog and out into the blue valleys between the cloud mountains again. After a time the aircraft was above the valleys and mountains of clouds and I could see in between the billows of cloud tops below to the ocean beneath. I do not recollect much else of this trip, I am told we landed in Rome Italy several oceans later and I do remember old buildings and a farm with a colony of bees. The farm in Italy was a pea farm, and I remember the smell of crushed green peas and plants in the combine of the tractor, and an acrid sharp twang of odor coming from a sea of white beehives. This farm was in sharp contrast to our visit to Milan Italy, a gritty industrial city, whose downtown smelt like and looked like sooty diesel exhaust. In 1963 Italy was awash in old Mediterranean culture buildings and ruins covered with black grey soot. In fact the memory still persists of “old town” in San Diego, it is here in old town that the old Spanish colonial buildings house museums. Old buildings together with sea and cliffs I think contribute to who I am, someone who visualizes the trip through both time and space that all things make.
I know now that my parents at the time of my first trip worked at a soon to be opened University of California at San Diego in 1964. The University of California at San Diego can be seen just before entering the fog above the sea as aircraft take off just south of La Jolla.
I remember this trip often and recently I have come to believe that this memory has had a great influence on my interests and my journey through life and time. Just after high school I joined the Air force reserve and worked on aircraft engines just to learn how they work and to satisfy that love of all things aviation and spaceflight. I have over the decades devoured every text or PBS program on the great cycles of hydrology and geochemistry that tells the history of our planet. This life cycle of our planet can be best seen where the sea meets the cliffs of La Jolla. I am sure my fascination with the history of life comes from my first moments in the clouds since clouds feed all life. In the last decade I have from time to time worked on national oceanic and atmospheric administration (NOAA) fishery research ships out at sea. The life cycle and evolution of the seas excites my soul as much as knowing where the atmosphere comes from. I can sit in a tavern on the beach in San Diego or in Port Huron and imagine where every molecule of wind, surf and cloud has been in the last 4 billion years. Even the gasoline and natural gas that runs our cars and heats our homes has slept for just a few hundred million years in the rocks below since those molecules last saw the sunlight. Strange thoughts for an afternoon spent looking out the windows at the Zebra lounge out on the river and clouds of Port Huron? No these thoughts are not strange at all, these thoughts power my homework.
My favorite rock ballads sing of “stardust” and “dust in the wind” so its no surprise to me that I find my self taking courses here at ST Clair Community College in biology and geology. These courses will lead to a health care profession or the sciences, but I am sure I will
follow the lead of my soul that will remember that first flight through the biosphere. Those thoughts from that first flight will lead me to a position back out at sea on a research ship or perhaps Antarctica even if only as a health care worker.
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