I recently came across an aerial photograph of my grandparents’ Nebraska farm taken in the 1960s. True to memory, the centerpiece was the big white house with the wraparound porch. Just as I remembered, a narrow ribbon of sidewalk led from the house past the chicken coop, the garage with the door that slid from side to side, the tool shed, the small milk house with the big sink and giant refrigerated tank, directly to the barn.
The black and white picture confirmed my piecemeal memories and put them together in a larger frame. The farm wasn’t as big as I remembered. It was bigger.
There were giant silos beyond the ground I normally wandered, a hog barn, a shelter for the tractor and the combine, and other structures as well. There was more to the farm than I saw as a kid kicking rocks down the lane.
That simple but sometimes startling reminder — that it is easy to fixate on the parts and lose sight of the whole — may be the most wonderful thing about flying. Actually, these days, it is probably the only wonderful thing about flying.
The plane takes off, the city below grows smaller and grayer, the vehicles and roads lose definition and a giant quilt, shades of green, brown and gold with pools of blue, unfolds below.
So peaceful. And beautiful. Why did I get so worked up about what he did? So vast. Can I even remember what it was that he did? Sheer magnificence. Why does life always seem so hurried?
When you gain perspective, the big things take their rightful places and simple pleasures seem more worthy of pursuit.
It’s good to be reminded.
One morning on that farm, my youngest uncle who still lived at home and was probably in high school at the time, let me ride with him on horseback to round up the cows for milking. We rode beyond the familiar and came to the ridge of the canyon. It was amazing terrain with deep plunging crevices. If the horse stumbled, we’d plummet to the bottom and never make it back out.
That canyon was so unlike the more familiar stretches of rolling hills and surrounding prairie that years later I sometimes wondered if I had imagined it.
I hadn’t. It’s in the aerial. But the small canyon with its ravines didn’t stand alone. Nothing ever does. It eased at both ends giving way to gentle slopes. There would have been several ways out. There often are.
It’s good to be reminded.
Looking at the old photo, I see the work boots that plodded down that sidewalk a thousand times to the dairy barn before daybreak and again in late afternoon, small legs that whipped through the grass, climbed fences and chased barn cats. So many cousins, wild and rambunctious, having fun. As for all the aunts and uncles, many of them are gone now. Only shadows remain.
Perspective compels us to take it all in — the breadth, the depth, the joy and the sorrow. The landforms, the water, the fields and the canyon with the steep ravines, are fixed points. We are the ones forever changing and moving, swiftly passing through.