Saturday, September 11, 2010

Nine Eleven Essay Repost

The following is an essay I posted on my other blog, BakersTake, two years ago. I'm taking the liberty of reposting it here today.

Some years ago I heard, or read conspiracy chatter about contrails being a sinister plot by the government to spray chemicals over the country as some kind of mass experiment. It may have been talk show host Art Bell who did a program about contrails. Doesn't really matter who. I heard it somewhere and had to laugh about it.

Most people I've talked to don't even know what a contrail is. As a boy in the Texas Panhandle I would see aircraft contrails every day in the clear skies of the plains. Now, I watch them in the early mornings at sunrise. I'm fascinated by them, not because of what they are doing to the masses, but because of where the aircraft might be coming from, and where they're going. I watch them coming over from the northeast and imagine that this one or that one or the one over there is coming from Europe and headed for, gee, I don't know, maybe Chicago, or Atlanta, or Houston, or the west coast. Others coming in from the northwest surely must be flying in from Asia for New York or Boston, or Washington DC.

I think of the time it takes for each flight. From my many years of travel to and from Asia I know that to get from Rochester, NY to, say Taipei takes a total of about 22 hours. Not all of that in the air, mind you, but it's a long haul. As I look up in the morning at each streaking contrail I know that the brief time it takes each plane to fly out of my sight is but a flash in the sky compared to the total time those passengers will experience on their journey. For some time after the plane has vanished from my view, the contrail will remain. It either quickly dissipates, or spreads out on wind currents, finally appearing as a stretch of clouds.

Each part of this experience is a measure of time: My view of the tiny plane, the time it takes the plane to vanish from view, the flight time each invisible passenger spends on the journey, and the time afterward that the contrail is visible. The contrail, for me, is the only evidence of a journey taken by those passengers. It's my confirmation of life that passes above me, and speeds rapidly away.

Four years ago, on the 5th anniversary of 9/11, I happened to be outdoors on that clear morning, as usual looking up at aircraft and their contrails. It struck me that it was September 11th. In less time than it took for one of the aircraft to vanish from my sight, I quickly wrote a short poem. Today, as we mark another anniversary of the day that redefined our world views, I'll share that poem here.

In the morning as the sun rises, look up and watch a jet carry lives from somewhere to somewhere else. Consider all the elements of time that journey represents. See how long the contrails last. And appreciate the short time you're able to live, stand, look into the sky and imagine.


contrail cloud:

evidence of a journey

swept away on winds

as lives

speed invisible

through Earth's

ocean sky.

Poem © 2006 by R. Burnett Baker

Essay © 2008 by R. Burnett Baker

Photo © 2008 by R. Burnett Baker


  1. A wonderful reflection on something we all see everyday. And a lovely poem. Thanks, Rick.

  2. The essay was wonderful, Rick. Pensive and fascinating - I'd never come across the word "contrails" before, or knew what one was. Your words have a resounding poignancy - we are so small in this vast planet, indeed, this vast universe. We must treasure the little time we have. Your last sentence is perfect, I couldn't put it better myself, "And appreciate the short time you're able to live, stand, look into the sky and imagine." A powerful aphorism, and a wise one to live by.

    And your poem! Simply marvellous. And it's so great that you wrote it immediately after and during your sight of the contrail - while the emotion and the thoughts were freshest in your mind. Living poetry at its most vivid and brilliant. I especially liked the vibrant phrase, "Earth's ocean sky".

  3. love your close to this on the shortness of life and all the small moments traveling in fron to of that the poem as well..the ocean of the sky is a nice touch...

  4. Love how well put together this was, the story, ending with a poem.

    New here. Very much enjoyed it!


  5. That was quite moving. Poem and all.


    our poetry potluck is open, if you have poems (old or new) to share, link in NOW,
    you will benefit the best if you act and get in early.
    Thanks for the participation!
    Happy Monday!