The plane roared to life and I experienced the age-old feeling of excitement whenever I fly. As we chased the runway and the plane slowly lifted, I pressed my face to the window to see the ground fall away. I will never tire of that feeling of utter weightlessness – the peculiar thought of something so bulky taking to the air.
I’d been invited onto my boss’s plane for a morning trip to Naples, a city in southwest Florida looking out onto the Gulf of Mexico. We were flying to break in a new engine, and planned to refuel in Naples before returning to Yulee. It was a whistle-stop state tour, a four hour round trip that would take twelve in a car.
Within moments of take-off we were over the beach – long piers stretched out into the sea like the teeth of a comb. At 9am on a Saturday the beach was almost deserted. It was a treat to see so much uninterrupted sand before the tourist tide came rushing in.
We curved back inland and passed over a maze of river and marshland that I had already explored by boat, but this time we were too high to look for egrets. The only movement was the white streak of a lonely boat as it navigated the watery trails. I wondered how many alligators were down there, then decided not to think about that.
The marshy solitude of Amelia Island dissolved into towering office blocks, and I soon recognised downtown Jacksonville. There was the Landing, where I’d been just a week before the shooting. It had been enough to dissuade me from visiting downtown again, but I still had fond memories of the river walk, the MOSH museum and the topaz blue water of Friendship Fountain.
Leaving vast, sprawling Jacksonville behind, the landscape was soon dominated by trees again. Green was undoubtedly a primary colour in Florida – a patchwork quilt of field and forest stretched as far as the eye could see. In some places the trees were confined in tightly packed cubic parameters. In others, they were sprinkled sporadically. Criss-crossed over it all were the highways, dead straight lines in parallel and perpendicular.
Fluffy cumulus clouds were gathering, and a rather ominous feeling began to grow in my stomach as we bumped over them. Sunlight poured into the stuffy cabin, which did nothing to suppress my queasiness. Because of the new engine, we had no choice but to fly low. While the views were still stunning, I was somewhat distracted by the turbulent ride, and as Naples came into view I couldn’t help feeling slightly relieved that we’d be getting out of the clouds.
Once down on the ground, we stopped just long enough to stock up on drinks – fuel for the plane, a Gatorade for me – before taking off again, back through the spectrum of concrete jungles and green wildernesses.