When I was much, much younger, I’d hike in and around Rocky Mountain National Park, imagining I was an early trapper or Indian scout making my way quietly along the trail. I could hear the sandy crunch beneath my feet, the nearby stream, the wind in the pines, the birds overhead. I was alone in the wilderness, the only human to have passed this way in many moons. But then I’d look up and see modern jet contrails in the sky, and my bubble burst.
Today I curse those contrails for another reason. One week ago, one of them took my grandson west to San Diego to begin basic training as a Marine. We’ve a very busy airport here in Denver and many, if not most, of its departing flights head west. They are already quite high when they pass over my house, but I can still hear them. Mostly it’s in the mornings, but his plane departed in the afternoon. I know because I was watching his marker on GPS. It sat at the airport, gray and unmoving, for several hours, then abruptly appeared in San Diego. Shortly after that, it disappeared completely, as though he’d suddenly vanished from the face of the earth.
Only a few weeks ago, it seems, we were playing video games together, although that was actually pre-Covid. But even during the lockdown I could always see his marker on Google maps, along with those of his mom, dad, and sister. Odd how reassuring it is just seeing dots on a map. And how disturbing it is when one of them disappears.
Someday one of those contrails will bring him home again. He probably won’t play video games with his grandma anymore. Or stay very long. And his dot will likely not appear on my map again. But he’s not gone forever.
It just seems that way.