Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Dear Home,

We are flying over the Bering Strait, a slow curve Southwest and headed toward the east coast of Siberia. The map in the airline mag shows the crags and borders of a vast expanse of dirty white and pale aquamarine, the colors for cold and empty. The rest of the world is spread down the page below in a patchwork of desert tan and arid corn and a dozen shades of fertile, breathing green. Outside the window, the real world of cold and dirty Siberia first shows through gaps in the clouds, wispy itself somehow, the physical embodiment of Nothing, land as unsubstantial as Emptiness. And then the plane continues its curve, tracked on the Hallmark-sized screen on the back of the seat in front of me, over a band of clouds as artfully arced as a mountain range and then the mountains themselves are below. The map labels them as the northern tip of the Kamchatka Penninsula, the place where the Shirshov Ridge rises out of the Bering Sea onto land. Names that have no meaning for me. Even from this height they are huge and everywhere and empty of all life. Wasteland, like the winds have stripped everything but the endless endless maze of impenetrable rock. Nothing could live there. I have never seen anything no natural be so antithetical to Life. It is what God made when It felt as hard and merciless as a factory spitting out steel for bayonets. It is the end of the East.

More of a slow curve, down through clouds, and we’re above a green amoeba of islands, splotches of something I won’t ever know or feel, still devoid of any signs of human endeavor, settlement, presence. Hard-boned animals, at least, could live there. But not even an insect could know those Shirshov mountains, those Dostoyevsky, salt-mine death mountains….

We are going backward, the Westward Ho! of American migration marching so far Shannon and I have come back to the beginning. The unknown place from where the World’s Tribes first clawed out of Oblivion, broke apart and reformed and destroyed and made anew and fanned out so far that we’ll never remember where we first knew what we were. What awaits? Lands of Byzantium, Orthodox droning, Killing Fields and lush jungle and empty beaches and spices I’ve never imagined…languages I’ll never understand, more tribes I’ve never heard of. The shape of Earth as it has been carved by Nature and History and the forever rising upward and falling back of hundreds of thousands of generations of my people: Humankind, the most wondrous and terrifying creature to exist on this most bedazzling and beautiful of planets. The earth spins clockwise, we fly counterclockwise, toward the New Adventure in a lifetime of them. May we have them always until we are gone.


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