I left New Orleans for home yesterday in the rain. To be fair, the weather had been sunny until then. But yesterday morning the view from the twenty-ninth floor of the hotel was gray. Through the window drops I could see below the giant, unreal-looking palm trees marching down Canal Street, already wrapped in Christmas lights, and the narrow, straight streets of the French Quarter laid out like a map to the edge of the Mississippi, a bend of the Mississippi so huge I had at first mistaken it for the ocean.
The taxi to the airport smelled like a memory of cigarettes, and there was a Niagara pouring through a leak in the overhang at the unloading dock outside the Delta Airlines doors. I paid the taxi driver, gathered my bags, took one last look at the dirty, dark, day, and plunged into the airport for a full day's imprisonment.
All that day, the outdoors could only be seen--through tiny windows, through huge plate-glass windows. Sunny in Detroit, but a picture only, untouchable, unsmellable. The food courts in the airports smelled appetizing but too warm and overwhelming, yet not quite able to overcome the distinctive smell of airports--some sort of disinfectant common to all airports in the country. The last leg of the journey, the little flight from Detroit to my town, seemed airless. There had been a definite, disturbing smell of exhaust fumes at the beginning, which no one else could sense. Even when that dissipated, the air itself was exhausted, oxygen-poor, hardly worth the trouble of breathing. One could hardly believe that fifty souls could live and move and have their being with only that air in that narrow metal tube.
Then we banked, and looking past the girl by the window, I caught a glimpse of home. Fields like chess squares, surrounded by maple woods, mostly now leafless, looking like brown fur from that height, here and there spiked by a last, leaping flame of autumn color. The plane landed, and we waited an eternal, gasping, last few minutes before the door opened. By the grace of God, there was no jetway this time, just stairs down from the door. I stepped out, and the sky opened overhead in an infinite vault, robin's-egg blue, paling to almost white at the edges. The sunset air was clean and chill. I could have stood for ten minutes on the tarmac, just breathing, but the children were waiting at home.
This morning, I pulled the drapes back from the big, southern window in the dining room. Frost rimed everything--all the grass and the last few leaves. Just across the street, to the southeast, the cold, blazing sun topped the neighbors' fifty-foot blue spruce, looking like some improbable, out-of-scale Christmas tree star.
This afternoon I raked the leaves.
It's good to be back.