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Michael Perry: Reflecting on the contrails across the sky

December 31, 2018
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Michael Perry

At dawn I saw contrails lain parallel across the sky and thought of cross-country ski tracks. This reflects cultural bias and December in rural Wisconsin and — now that I think of it — the fact that I used my wife’s skis to wedge the basement door shut last evening in order to keep the cats down there overnight and out of leftovers stored on the porch.

This is one of those pieces written well prior to its printing. I’d love to attribute the timeline to proactive overachievement; rather it’s a reflection of holiday printing schedules and my editor requesting I help people who show up to work hard at real news every day catch a rare break. In light of history unfolding at the speed of Tweet, there is this sense that every phrase I type, every word, will be post-loaded. What if I compose an ode to puppies and lollipops only for the ode to hit print the day after someone stabs a puppy with a lollipop? Or nominates a lollipop to a cabinet position? (I vote for a puppy.)

So I write oblivious to the future present and return to today’s day, which broke bright but frozen, the sky clear save a few skipping-stone clouds, which by the time I hauled the water bucket to the chicken coop were seared red and golden on the underside. The twin contrails cut unnaturally through them on an east-west line, left by big jets beginning the descent to Minneapolis. I saw the thin strips of condensation as both metaphor and intrusion, and thought how the person feeding chickens when our farmhouse was built in the 1880s never encountered such a sight, and briefly wondered what percentage of the couple hundred people propelled by the residual exhaust were fleeing the present as opposed to pursuing the future. Then I stepped on a knob of frozen chicken poop, which, like the princess’ proverbial pea, redirected my eyes and attention to the more relevant elements of the day at hand.

The chickens were voracious as always, pecking their way through each other to get at the feed, but I spare myself and you this particular metaphorical sidetrack to say that after I got their water topped off I stopped for a moment on the snow-pack path between the house and the coop to absorb the ongoing sunrise. For a moment the world was aligned, the sun burn-bleeding through distant stripped poplars to rise over the spine of the back forty, the ridge inscribed with ski tracks cut by my wife during yesterday’s foray, the matched white ribbons a grounded mirror image to the airliner residue fading above. It being near the end of the year I began to float off into the idea of time and symmetry and the human desire for a clear path through confusion, and then, startled by the crow of a particularly nasty rooster, I simply settled for the idea of returning to the work at hand and putting those skis back before someone trips over them.

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