Sunday, August 3, 2008

Chicken Runs and Fighter Jets

Some men do their work on the ground, others in the sky.

I labor in the sun over my chicken run. I cut gussets for the corners to keep it square; stake out the perimeter so I can run a string between the stakes to make it level.

Above me, a little bit closer to the sun but hardly so, other men cut mind-boggling turns, dense and muscled, leaving eddies of torqued thunder in their wake. They skate around the corners of the sky. They string together clouds as points on a course; they howl, shriek, climb, dive.

The Blue Angels are in town and have been in town for most of a week. Does anybody not know this? I've been busy, so today is the first day I've had the luxury of watching them, the privilege of hearing them. One jet in particular is deafening. This must be the one that sends my brother's cat burrowing under the bed.

Their (omni-)presence has come up in conversation with friends, housemates, people at work, but today is the first day I've really watched. Everybody has an opinion, but I've been struggling to come up with my own.

A formation of four comes arcing directly overhead, so low I can see the helmets of the pilots, so coordinated they're like fingers on a hand.

What I think is not so simple. I realize I think one thing, and FEEL another. I think: waste of fuel; I think: emblem of empire. I think: someone has a genitalia complex.

But what I feel, that's a whole 'nother story. The sound arouses something primal in me. It terrifies me. I feel small. I also feel astonished, humbled, saturated with a sense of awe. The presence of the jets elicits the same expansiveness of being I experience when confronted with a natural wonder that defies categorization, defies one's attempt to put it in context, diminish it to a containable thing, or give it a relative scale; like the Grand Canyon, Yosemite Valley, or the trees of the Hoh Rainforest. When one cannot contain something witnessed, one is forced to expand to take it in; or submit to being absorbed in it, and thus become part of something bigger.

I might even call it a spiritual experience.

The funny thing is that my cousin and his friends are just inside, playing jazz piano, spicing it up with some djembe and even a bit of didgeridoo. This is a remarkable concurrence of events. Overhead the not-gods hurl their might across the sky with god-like confidence and might, their war cries god-fierce. A tightly-knit cascade of notes alights from the piano and comes skipping through the air. The djembe speaks in low grunts, like an old, wise savage. All is wrapped in the continuum of the didg, which seems to suggest that none of these things are alien to this world, not even the fighter jets. Who are we to decide what is natural?

But do I agree, folks? I don't know, I just don't know. Am I amazed? Yes, and I think it's good to be amazed. But is it possible to be amazed without all the force and fuss? All the howling and shrieking and climbing and diving? Yes. And I wish more people were receptive to it.

It's why I garden. I suppose it's an exercise in listening. It makes me sensitive to subtelty, and as I grow more sensitive, I notice more marvels. I am more easily amazed.

Though the Blue Angels leave me reeling with awe, I should hope that I don't always need such gross stimulation to encounter such awe. I will continue to work in the quiet corners of my life, and meet the world there, too.


gregory said...

The only spiritual element I get from watching and hearing the blue angels is an acceptance of death. I generally feel oppressed by their outrageous invasiveness. I feel like a farmer in vietnam hearing the cry of jets buzzing overhead as the napalm explosions follow the line behind them from down the ridge right up my orchard, through my house with my family sleeping (hopefully) and through me. The oppression they inflict on the world is something I will hopefully never feel but it makes me sick when I try.

d.edlen said...

damn, man! well written.


Everytime said...

For what it's worth.

For one show, the FA-18 uses about 8,000 pounds, or 1,300 gallons of JP-5.
At $7.50 per gallon, that's close to $10,000.
Multiplied by 6 aircraft, that's $60,000.
Over 4 days, it comes out to about $240,000.

That's just gas.
I pulled this info off a blog where people were debating wether the Blue Angels were noise or the sound of freedom.
Sounds to me like your cousins were rolling out the real sounds of freedom.

Matt Smaus said...

I guess what it comes down to is that I DON'T agree with it, but, though I can and do put myself in others' shoes as Greg does in his comment, I can also see the jets with a sort of aesthetic detachment, and appreciate the raw power of their presence as something beautiful in its own way.

Matt Smaus said...

Which is, of course, the luxury of someone not being bombed by them....