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by Vivian Taylor, Roundup columnist

Yesterday I flew across the country. Doing that still fills me with awe, even though air travel has been as ubiquitous as walking throughout my life.

I marvel at the fact that a person in Phoenix can walk into a capsule with wings, sit stuffed like a cork in a wine bottle six abreast with a hundred or so other people for four and a half hours while the capsule rises 35,000 feet into the ether, moves forward at an incredible, gravity-defying speed and descends. And then, like magic, that same person walks out again to touch the soil in Baltimore, Md.

From the moment you enter one airport until the moment you leave another, the routine momentum of life is suspended in unreality. All metropolitan airports look alike, filled with hundreds of people scurrying about like robots, oblivious of one another, intent only on getting where they're going. You step into this unnatural vacuum from a warm, sunny desert city that's paradoxically alive with green lawns and flowers surrounding sprawling stucco houses and condos. You emerge into a different world still wrapped in winter's trappings barren trees that tower above compact two-story brick houses with shuttered windows and tall chimneys braced against a cold, biting wind. And somehow, though just four and a half hours have elapsed, your watch says it's six and a half hours later.

It's better not to dwell on all this too much after take-off. It can be disorienting. That may be why most air travelers hunker down over their laptops, chatter inanely with the stranger in the next seat, lose themselves in a novel or Newsweek magazine, or snooze. On longer flights, there are movies and music via headphones. Simple meditation is rarely a favored activity.

This little window of suspension is a gift to most of us an escape from our mundane daily lives, a moment of quiet peace, albeit filled with busy work. And though we're less aware, it's also flushed with the thrill of adventure and tinged with just a hint of hubris. After all, we're doing something earthbound creatures aren't supposed to do fly like an eagle.

A little turbulence, like we had yesterday, is an abrupt reminder that you really aren't an eagle, and it may prompt you to take out the card in the pocket in front of you and review in graphic detail how to pull down the oxygen mask above your seat. Who among us hasn't experienced a fleeting mental image of their plane bursting into flames and hurtling toward the sea, even if the plane is over the wheat fields of Nebraska.

All of which just adds to the viseral thrill of flying that we feel compelled to mask with a cool, bored manner. However, it's not a sense of danger we're feeling. We know that it's far more dangerous to drive a car, and there's no thrill in that once you pass age 16. Flying is different. It's that knowledge that we're messin' with Mother Nature, testing boundaries on a universal scale, glancing over our shoulders to see if she's watching.

When humans took to the air less than a hundred years ago it was an amazing act of defiance. Our kind has always done that, from the time we chose to leave the trees and walk on two legs, or reached for the fruit on the forbidden Tree of Knowledge, depending on your frame of reference.

What next, I wonder? Whatever it is, I hope I'm here to see it.

Contact Vivian Taylor at 474-1386 or online at viv@cybertrails.com.

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