Following the contrail X in my hometown suburb outside Pittsburgh

Yesterday evening I took my pooch for a walk before the sun was started to set. I’ve walked this path many times before, but, whenever it’s fall and the sun is shining, it feels like I’m walking it for the first time.

The blue sky, whether dotted with clouds or virgin clear, is forever wondrous. And it’s especially beautiful when it shows signs of people going places. Today, those signs were exhaust trails in the form of X’s.

The first contrail in suburban Pittsburgh

I imagined some people going south toward Florida and others west toward California. I imagined them looking down and thinking what a beautiful evening to travel.

The second contrail in suburban Pittsburgh

As I got closer to the X in the sky, or as it started to widen, I asked myself: What’s responsible for these trails? Why do they only form when a plane is high in the sky?

The third contrail in suburban Pittsburgh

Later I discovered that these exhaust trails are called contrails and that they only form at aircraft cruise altitudes several miles above the Earth’s surface. Planes at low altitudes look like mechanical white birds. There are no signs of engines powering them.

The fourth contrail in suburban Pittsburgh

After walking a half mile and making a few turns, the X in the sky looked completely different. It looked thin and as distant as the first time I saw it. How can something so far up change in appearance so fast?

But then I realized: This was a different X, under the close watch of the moon.

The fifth contrail in suburban Pittsburgh

Here was my initial X, growing slightly larger with each passing moment, until it would become blurred with all the other contrails and X’s in the evening sky…

The sixth contrail in suburban Pittsburgh

Do these contrails represent something good (people traveling) or something bad (pollution)?

I don’t know. I just know that when you’re walking, keep your head up from the sidewalk. Chuck Palahniuk wrote this in the initial pages of a book I read a decade ago and I’ve practiced it since.

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