November 13, 2002

Over the years, little airplanes have provided me with a wonderful vantage for viewing nature. Every cloudscape is different, and I have seen a million beautiful views containing nothing but shades of blue, gray, and white. Clouds make a good story because they are always changing.

Clouds come, and they go They get bigger, smaller, flatter puffier, higher, and lower, darker, and lighter. Snow or rain can fall from them , and not to put the cart before the horse, the wind pushes them around. Outwardly it seems disorderly, but some day a computer will be able to do the math which explains the presence of each individual water droplet within each cloud.

Looking across the land, I have seen the water run from the clefted hills, through broad valleys, past the cities, and into the sea. Unlike the sky though, a view across the land is not just about nature; it is about man's work. We have fought nature and won, fought and lost, and fought to a grudging accommodation. Just like the story of clouds, the story of the land is of change, and mostly, mankind is the agent of that change.

Nature changes the land too slowly to hold our continued interest. The hills I saw as a toddler will have the same profile when I am old and hobbled. If we wait a lifetime, we can see an acorn grow into a mature oak. In a day though, we can see a field plowed in the spring or harvested in the fall. In a season crops will grow and ripen or a house can rise from a field or from a new clearing in the woods.

From a car people can see one or two fields at a time, or one near-by hillside and several more at a distance. From a plane we don't usually see just one field being worked, we see many fields, hills, and settlements all in one view. The road that the car rides upon is also part of the picture and of the story, because its path was determined by the obstacles that nature had placed in its way.

Just as one house can be built in a season, many hands can build many houses, and I often find myself disturbed by the sight of new homes sprawled across last year's cropland. I was happy that I could build a house in this area 25 years ago, and I wouldn't thwart someone else's dream today. My issue is not with the new construction, it is with its vogue.

I am troubled to see quarter- acre houses crammed together on half- acre lots. When I look at them I see more house than most families need, and a mortgage payment that lasts forever... so long as the household has two paychecks. The concept of a "Trophy House" crosses my mind. The individual houses are visually pleasing, and sit on their little patch of well groomed lawn, but the aura seems as artificial as their vinyl siding.

I guess I grew up admiring the farmers that were starting to fade away fifty years ago, when I was little. They were capable of constructing and repairing any structure on the farm, could maintain all of their equipment, and could improvise whenever something went awry. A few odd boards, pieces of steel. or broken machinery was not clutter, it was raw material that could be the solution for the next problem. It was a self- reliant and independent lifestyle.

Today's lifestyle is just the opposite, and most people depend upon outside sources and knowledge for everything around them. The oversized house on an undersized lot, cheek to jowl with other "pretty as a picture" houses stands, to me, as the crowning jewel of a dependent existence. They seem to me to be nothing more than comfortable storage boxes where people can park their lives during the hours that are not spent treading the water in a sea of debt.

I accept change as being the only constant in life, and I accept the concept that toleration is the only way to succeed among a crowd. I get upset though, when people who know nothing of their own homes advocate laws which tell me how to build or maintain my own home. I am upset by cars that are gut- bound with safety devices when the biggest safety problem is that so few people bother to understand how to drive.

Our country became mighty because people were comfortable with managing their own risks, and the wide open spaces encouraged imaginative people to innovate and experiment. We were a people who were accustomed to thinking for ourselves. I think that within the course of my lifetime, that individuality has become a threat to the new "one- law fits all" or "team player"sort of conformity that comforts so many people.

I am sorry if it bothers you that this old goat is chewing too loud on his tin can. Mark my scrapings though, that aviation is a technical arena which is administered by people who are not technicians, and it survives only on the basis of its inertia. Inevitably the heavy hand of a politically sensitive but technically ignorant bureaucracy will settle over the rest of the landscape, stifling individuality and creativity. The independence that springs from the ability to take care of ones self will be lost.

The drones, the people who are too unassertive or distracted to take charge of their world, will be happy. Figuratively there will be no more swings from sunshine to rain, or from hot to cold. Uncertainty will be banished by an outwardly benevolent bureaucracy. Relieved of their responsibilities for decision making, people will wake each morning to the same pallid, clammy, but predictable gray day.

They will nod their heads in affirmation when they are told that things have never been better.

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