3000 feet of perspective on beauty

by gkurra

Last weekend I went flying with my friend Rob who is earning his pilot’s license one choppy flight at a time. We flew a 4-seater Piper Archer, a single propeller aircraft from the ’70s, painted white with a dull blue stripe running down the middle. The kind that has hard plastic seats. Taking off west bound from the Palo Alto airfield, we soared over the Pacific ocean at an altitude of about 3000 feet, just under SFO airspace. Then, turning due east near the Marin headlands, we headed towards the sleepy little town of Concord, where we landed for lunch. On the way back we circled around tall Mt.Diablo and swept across the blue-gray waters of the bay.

The Bay Area is simply beautiful from up in the air. I’d probably have to try very hard to dream up something more picturesque, more appealing as a whole. Imagine: the deep blue hues of the Pacific ocean shimmering in striking contrast to the wispy, fleece-white clouds hovering above it. The soaring, majestic northern California coastline dotted with dozens of little sandy beaches and rocky coves. Lush verdant mountains, redwoods and forests, little colorful waterways with white sailboats and their creamy wakes – the bays, the inlets, and the lakes. The surreal gleaming glass city at the tip of the peninsula. The Golden Gate. Mount Tamalpais.

I guess it often takes a change of perspective, 3000 feet in my case, to appreciate the charms of something you once treasured but now have come to take for granted.

Floyd Salas used to say that everything that is beautiful is sad, because it will be gone soon. But there’s the other side to it – that even if things stay as they are, unchanged for eternity, our perceptions of them don’t remain the same. Sooner or later, what used to be beautiful becomes boring, ordinary, unattractive. When I first moved to the Bay Area, driving up 280 was a feast everyday the way the setting sun painted the sky like a playful child would splash colors on an empty canvas. Now, I don’t pay as much attention to most sunsets because spectacular sunsets are so common here that they’re ordinary. I almost wish they weren’t.