Seeing things

One morning during our first summer in Seattle, Alene walked out of her apartment and was hit in the face by the Olympic Mountains — or at least the sight of them. They towered so huge, that it gave her quite a fright and she had to stop to catch her breath. But as she resumed walking down the hill towards the shore, they shrank and receded somewhat. We saw the illusion several times that summer, on mornings before surface heating broke down the thermal inversion. Alene’s apartment building must have been at the optimal elevation to see a superior mirage at a certain time of the morning.

We spend the rest of the day discussing mirages — primarily the superior kind in which images are projected upward. Alene grew up in Cornwall, a part of England known for its “Castles In The Sky.” North Cornwall has high cliffs with steep, narrow lanes down to coastal villages. At sunset, headlands and islands are projected upward, making the road downward seem even steeper than it is. I’ve had to be careful landing a plane in such conditions. You can’t count on the surrounding scenery to tell you where you are so you have to trust your instruments.

Speaking of flying, I am reminded of another illusion I shared with Alene. But unlike the mirages, this one has no scientific explanation. It happened only a couple of months into our association, when Alene was still in her old life back east.

Something possessed her to drive up to the airport one night in November. Airport is perhaps an overstatement. I had looked it up with an idea to perhaps flying in there one day and had expected nothing more than an uncontrolled landing strip and a windsock. I had gone to sleep, but was woken as Alene got in her car and drove to the hilltop airfield. It was a beautiful starry night up there, with a full moon hanging right by Orion. Alene seemed to be ignoring me — and that got me a bit afraid, because I didn’t know what she was doing there. It looked like she was expecting someone to fly in, because she just stared into the eastern sky for almost an hour.

When she finally realized no one was coming, she broke down and cried bitterly with disappointment. I worried that something or someone had given her the idea to expect me — and I could tell she was not tuned into me, although I could still hear and see through her. She turned back to her car and then I got to see the airport itself. It was a bit of a surprise to me, because it was rather more than just a landing strip and a windsock. There was a decent-sized terminal at the end of what looked like a modern, fully-equipped runway.

Alene seemed a bit shaken for the next couple of days, but rallied at the weekend — as did I. On Saturday afternoon, I suggested she drive up to the airport again. She was reluctant, but I pressed her to do it. It was a mild day with a light drizzle — quite a lovely late fall afternoon, with the last of the foliage still hanging around. And up at the airport — we found the uncontrolled landing strip and the windsock. And the end of the crumbling asphalt of the runway was just a large shrubby clearing transitioning to the surrounding forest.

Alene was a bit stunned. There had been a real airport here the other night. I know, I told her. I had seen it too. I asked if she had gone up there to meet someone in particular — and she said she had gone there to meet me. I couldn’t explain that part. I couldn’t explain anything — other than perhaps we had seen into our future somehow. All I knew was, I didn’t want her to to panic and tune me out.

So we did what all English people do when they are their wits end — we went home and had a cup of tea.


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