Flying home.

You know those clear nights when the stars seem so close it’s almost as though you can reach up and scoop a handful right out of the sky?

Those stars are even more beautiful at 36,000 feet.

Once you get up past the disruption of city lights, the haze or smog or general atmospheric gunk, the inky black abyss gives you a gift: more stars than you really thought were possible to behold.

Sure, there were camping trips in the mountains and nights in the desert spent looking up into the heavens, but nothing like this. It’s almost impossible to pick out any familiar constellations, because they’re no longer familiar — they’re surrounded by thousands of other points of light, and everything blends together. You have to squint in order to make out the brightest stars — the ones that are visible most other nights from the backyards and streets and wide open spaces below.

The cities far beneath me glow under cloud cover. They’re reminiscent of the way a thunderhead looks when it’s illuminated from the inside out by lightning, only there’s no flickering.

And every so often, the clouds give way to reveal highways and urban sprawl. Millions of amber-hued lights band together, revealing shopping centers, neighborhoods, thoroughfares, city blocks and city limits. The occasional airport beacon shows itself, too — blue…then white…then blue again.

Sometimes you’ll pass over the middle of nowhere with not a cloud in sight, and the lights are so few and far between it’s like you’re gazing skyward. Pinpoints of white and yellow on the ground could pass for stars, especially when they twinkle a bit in the air currents.

It’s peaceful up above, and it looks peaceful down below. Much is better in the air — blogging, music, quiet contemplation. People I travel with often ask me what I watched during the flight, and the answer is always the same: “Nothing.” I could stare out the window the entire time, although there’s usually a bit of work to be done while we’re en route to our destination.

Tonight, the only item on my to-do list was blogging, and I’m thankful to be doing it with the most amazing view imaginable just outside my window. It derailed me a few times, since I started this post somewhere over New Jersey and we’re now just south of St. Louis, but it’s one distraction I’ll gladly accept again.

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