I like to take photographs and while I’m no professional, people say I’m pretty good at the art. Since I’ve been a writer, I think I’ve honed my skills, looking for pictures, looking for imagery. But – hey – sometimes you don’t have a camera.
This time, I didn’t.
The 737 thrusts up from the runway into an unmistakable atmospheric inversion. I look out the window onto a slightly blurred landscape, as if some entity had cast a gauzy grey veil across an alien landscape of low, green-forested hills interspersed with towns and villages, collections of little boxes set amongst the flowing lines and curves of nature. My camera is up there, in the overhead locker inside my carry-on bag. Should I take pictures? Nah. I’m tired, still grumpy about the crummy airport and facilities at Frankfurt. But I can’t stop looking. Steam rises into the turgid atmosphere, spewing from the flowerpot-shaped stacks of four, five, six… good grief, how many power stations all across this verdant land. Interspersed between them, in discreet groups on the tops of the hills, tall white wind towers stand, their massive sails barely moving.
I realise we’ve crossed into Holland when my brain finally registers the countryside has changed. Down there beneath the woolly clouds the land has taken on the appearance of a patchwork quilt in brown and green and gold. So different from the channel country in the heart of Australia, where rows of petrified sand hills march across the land like so many frozen waves. Do I need the camera? … Nah.
The plane turns and begins to descend into Schiphol. The patchwork quilt of fields changes again, each piece becoming long and narrow, edged with glittering channels of water. Water, more water everywhere. Barges drift along a lazy river threading through the landscape. And what’s that? I peer down at a shifting shape leaping along below, hazy, elusive, blending with the shadows, hiding under the clouds. The plane loses height and speed. So does the shape. The haziness resolves and hardens. It is the shadow of the 737 in which I sit, thousands of metres above. I notice the pools and lakes that seem to erupt into crinkled silver paper glitter as the sunlight hits them. And still the shape paces with us, sailing over water, leaping over roads, galloping dark and gleeful over the white rooves of massed greenhouses, only to disappear briefly into the shadow of a drifting cloud.
Camera? No. It won’t last. The plane will turn and it will be all over.
Down, further down. Our shadow matches every move. Damn and blast, it’s perfect; there’s the tail, the foreshortened wings. The shadow disappears into the detail for a moment and reappears. By now the plane is dropping down to the runway. The cultivated fields are replaced by a wide expanse of grass edging the asphalt and the shadow paces with us, perfect, sharp edged and dark until it merges with our wheels
I sigh. The camera’s up there, in the overhead locker.