Intercontinental flights are usually pretty dull. The route between London and Chicago, however, is one I always look forward to. That’s because it flies over the southern tip of Greenland. The airplane heads northwest over Ireland, then arcs across the North Atlantic, barely missing Iceland before crossing Greenland.
I always seem to be lucky with the weather and get a clear view of the jagged coastline of fjords and glacial screes. The last time I flew that route the weather was especially fine. The water below sparkles a pale sapphire, reflecting the sun so brightly that it stings my eyes. Scattered across the ocean are the white dots of ice floes. Some are surrounded by water colored an emerald green. At first I don’t know what I’m looking at until I see several white dots clustered close together, with emerald both between and surrounding them, and I realize that I’m seeing icebergs, their tips white and their submerged parts green in the sea water.
Further inland, massive glaciers glint in the sunlight. There are no roads or buildings on the land, and no boats on the water. No people anywhere.
“Are you looking at the other plane?” a voice asks behind me.
“Huh?” I reply, not too eloquently. Then I notice another plane a little above us and far off to our right. I frown at it like it’s an unwelcome intruder. I don’t want to see evidence of people here.
“Um, no, I’m looking at Greenland,” I reply with a bit more coherence.
I’m standing at the emergency exit door looking out the porthole because the grumpy guy sitting at the window seat in my row is more interested in watching an inflight movie and wants the window closed.
“Why do you need to stand here to do that?” the person standing behind me asks.
After griping about the idiocy of the guy in my row, I launch into an enthusiastic monologue about how I’ve always wanted to go to Greenland, how I’ve eagerly read explorer’s tales and Inuit folklore, that this was one of the few truly wild places left on Earth and it’s my dream to someday trek across it.
“Really.” His response comes out flat, suspicious.
I turn around and look at the person I’m talking to for the first time. Behind me stands a burly man with a buzz cut. He’s studying me closely.
This is an air marshal, I realize, and while everyone else is sleeping or watching movies I’m standing by the emergency exit.
Suddenly I see the situation from his perspective. He’s trying to decide whether I’m an eccentric nutcase or a terrorist. I prefer to have him think I’m an eccentric nutcase. I launch into an even more enthusiastic monologue about Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen’s first skiing expedition across Greenland in 1888, and the Norse settlements there that served as a base for Viking exploration of North America. Then I talk about the natural history of the island. My hopes of making it to the United States as a free man rise as I watch his eyes glaze over.
“Whatever,” he says with a shrug and walks off. He hasn’t even glanced out the window.
I go back to watching the glaciers below and dreaming of my next adventure.
[Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons]