Flying over Siberia, I press my face to the tiny cabin window and stare down at the landscape. The tundra at night is a frigid blue-white veined with darker depressions; arctic tones, though the flashing light on the airplane wing occasionally tinges the snowbanks 30,000 feet below with strawberry-pink. Everything I can see has a delicate, painterly quality, as though crafted by sentient, perfectionist powers of wind and precipitation. In the distance, a bright orange spot structured like a miniature skyline is sewn into the tundra, and the light around it bubbles and bleeds out, red-hot. I can’t tell precisely what it is, though I keep my eyes on it for as long as it remains in view: Maybe an industrial plant, maybe a den of witches. The effect, against the polar terrain and soot-black sky, is otherworldly. I think to myself: “I could be parachuted here right now and never found.” My body forever frozen in time and place, among the polar bears. The thought is strangely freeing.
From such heights, the planet feels neatly and safely contained; I watch it flow past me, circumscribed within the hard plastic and titanium of the airplane window frame. But at the same time I know it is a false comfort and a false expectation. The biophysical world resists easy comprehension and easy containment. I have heard human life characterized as no different from wildlife; Homo sapiens in the same network and made of the same bloodied pulp as Panthera tigris and Formicidae. I have also heard of “the Anthropocene,” in which humans are demigods, creating and destroying in a constant, technicolor cycle. I believe both visions hold some truth, which makes the conflict between them inevitable and interminable. But, flying above the quiet world in a shaking tin can, I forget my humanness. I look out at an Earth of chiaroscuro and suddenly remember autumn, when the light strikes leaves on trees rendered gold and plentiful by the passing time. Diamond-like, their brilliance; like veils made of string and broken CDs, hung up in backyard gardens to distract the animals.