The air is what changes with seasons. Hot and muggy in the summer, chill and dry in the winter, or hot and dry and cold and wet, the air is more than temperature, it is feel. Sometimes these seasonal shifts bring unwelcome days spent indoors sheltering. Sometimes they bring days with scant light, or with an abundance. At an ultimate tournament in Copenhagen two years ago the sun set near eleven, and players lingered outside long into the evening, marveling at the gift. In the winter the same climes are less inviting, and so, creatures of this mobile world, we depart for places less socked in with snow and ice.
It is February, the calendar tells me, though the February of my childhood memories bears no relation to these days of lively air, of sun and wind and a hint of rain, off in the distance. It is not dry, nor hot, neither chilly nor muggy. For these weeks Houston glows, and we take any excuse for long walks, evening strolls, and afternoons spent lazing with the windows open. Houston may be horrible in the summer as locals claim, muggy and hot with air still and sitting on the city. Shanghai is, five almost unbearable summers proved that, and all those with the ability flee to Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, the Philippines, Europe, North America.
An hour of flying has the carbon footprint of driving for a year, I hear. Car-less, then, I am still no more removed from our planet’s doom than anyone else. Let’s move to somewhere we can walk, I say, let’s move somewhere we don’t have to sit in traffic. Let’s fly somewhere, for vacation, I say. Let’s fly somewhere to see the world, and the hypocrisy, if true, is staggering. Reading Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking a year ago, I marveled at their use of air travel. Her story of loss, brilliant in its clarity, was for me as much a commentary on air travel, and our shifting abilities. She speaks of hopping up and down the California coast for dinner, on the PSA, an airline that no longer exists. Fascinated, I look them up, finding hijackings and crashes, joy and marketing all gradually subsumed into now-bankrupt nationwide carriers. Her stories, and their $13.50 aisle seats, belong to a different era, where airlines flew when they wanted to, or when they were full, like Chinese mini-busses do now, circling the train stations in search of passengers.
Playing ultimate yesterday with the wind blowing and sun shining, a woman told me of playing on similar days in Northern Europe. She mentioned living in Korea, and I told her of the tournament held yearly in Jeju, on practice fields built for the 2002 World Cup, and how the wind there blows off the ocean that lies just over the cliffs. All our travels are comparable through wind, and all were brought back to us standing amid yesterday’s gusts.
Coming home today, I stand outside and watch this day unfold. It is weather to bottle, says a friend, to save forever. We cannot, of course, the only store for days like this is in our memories, which is why we tell stories, and share travel histories. And I wonder, watching the clouds blow by in huge gusts that reach the ground so gently, whether this too is an era, and we, like Didion, will write stories of it that will astonish in thirty years, sending readers to Wikipedia and to pages kept by those who remember. Will two hundred dollar flights to an island south of Korea for a weekend of ultimate have the same allure of the PSA, of the common since become impossible? I consider the carbon footprint, my dislike for the automobile, and that claimed equivalent, and suspect they will.
Not quite yet, though. A friend is coming, from New York’s ice and snow, to see these magical February Houston days, hopping down for a weekend. He won’t be riding the smile, and it won’t cost him $13.50, but, if the weather holds and the flight is safe, the belief that our lives are special, and temporary, will be hard to shake.