View from the Window Seat

To get from Phoenix anywhere, you fly over so much open country. First the mountains that ring The Valley, then the desert floor. Later, you come to the edge of a mountain range, or a river, and it’s as if someone has put down a line and a sign, “Build here.”

TownedgeHouses start, not gradually, but crammed together. You don’t know the town, you don’t know why it was a good place to build. First there is nothing, then a town, then nothing again.

Suddenly, below, there is a bald spot scraped onto the ground. The earth is gone, but not replaced with anything. Then there is a big hole. Being from the desert you think, “kiva?”, but the echo is more likely “copper mine.”


A pool of water too turquoise to be real, or even a pool, shows up. Don’t swim in it, your bones will dissolve and sink. Once the shaft mine gives out, there’s still copper to be had in strip mining. Mining might bring jobs, but it doesn’t bring life. With it, a rectangle of land that looks like a white and black backgammon board. Sludge fields, geometrically precise.

Someone has to do this digging, scratching, leaching. So there are homes. Build together, as if for comfort.

townThen comes the lace of roads meant to be another town, before the copper gave out. The trace of where roads might have been, where houses aren’t. What you see is a tattooed earth, scarified without meaning and abandoned.

There is not enough rain to start the grass growing over this. It will take years till the dust blows over it and we forget the dream of copper.

–Quinn McDonald wonders what she’s looking at, in an airplane and on the ground.




9 thoughts on “View from the Window Seat

    • Don’t most of them need me to be connected to the internet? That most airplanes don’t allow while you are flying? I have an app that works the other way–it tells me what’s overhead. Quite useful when the gate attendant tells you that the flight will be here in “10 minutes” and I know that it is nowhere close yet.

      • Not all of them do, and anyway in-flight internet is being installed in more planes all the time. The line about “electronics interfering with avionics” was never even remotely true.

        • You know that and I know that, but the flight attendant sure was cranky when I explained that I could read my iPad without connecting to anything and she still made me turn it off.

  1. I always wondered what those were! I thought it looked like some sort of motherboard! SIlly me. Then I thought it was pipelines. Is it really homes that have never been built? There are so many of them. Acres in fact.
    I do always enjoy the view from the plane once I get over New Mexico and Texas and finally Arizona. When I start to see it I feel like I am home even though it is not my home. Yet.

    • I feel the same way, Roberta. Once we fly over the Rockies, going West, I feel like I’m home, even before I lived here. At first, I thought of other things, too. But they are only in areas that got hit hard by the housing recession–New Mexico, West Texas, Arizona and that build homes on slab foundations (no cellars). They are always close to some manufacturing industry–mining, gas. I thought a lot of them were on reservations, but I don’t know the boundaries that well, and I can’t ask the pilot those questions anymore. Pilots get nervous when you ask that, I’m sitting so far back in steerage, we’d be someplace else by the time I got up and walked to the front of the plane.

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