the crater

This is something short I wrote last year about a flight I took in late 2012. Before I took this flight, I knew nothing of Manicouagan. The photo is from NASA.


I pressed my forehead against the window of the plane, looking down at the ocean scrolling past in endless waves, washing my mind clean of anything except for the empty beauty. After a long while, chunks of ice collected into floating patterns. Many small pieces bordered much larger pieces, the spaces between forming a visual rhythm which entranced me. I had already been leaning over for hours and my neck hurt but I was transfixed. How rare it was to be flying on a clear day over the Northern Atlantic with a window seat.

Then as the ice became more solid, in the distance jagged ice-covered peaks of land stuck out of the horizon, and slowly approached nearer. The shift from icy sea to icy land was dramatic. Between the peaks oozed a massive white glacier, crumbling apart into treacherous chunks as it met the sea. And then came the land, just as endless and hypnotic as the sea had been. Lakes, lakes as far as the eye could see, covered with ice, and the land in between covered with ice too. The shapes of the lakes formed long, rippling stripes in this wild landscape where the country was half lake and half land and all ice.

Northern Quebec and Labrador from above could be a distant planet, with no sign of life anywhere, animal, plant or human. And it seemed endless in its vastness, making the world inside of the plane isolated and surreal, like when the attendant handed me a tiny cup of coffee with three creams. Sipping on this comfort, I turned back to the tiny window. I was watching the greatest show on the earth.

Now there were some trees and the texture of the land changed, although the iciness remained, and for a long while that was all there was to see, until finally: a line cutting straight across the organic patterns below. A beautiful, lonely tangent. It led to a quarry, a spiral hole dug into the earth, deep in nowhere.

“Wow,” I whispered.

Even after that first elegant human wire, there was not much else for a long time. Just a road tracing the path of least resistance through the landscape and the lines of electricity cutting across, sometimes meeting and sometimes diverging.

In the far distance, as if a mirage, a miraculous sight: a huge lake shaped like a ring, formed in such a beautiful circle that it stands out as dramatically as the wires. This scar is from an ancient time when a massive meteor crashed into the earth, and the lake is formed by a series of dams, providing power to much of the Eastern part of the continent, in a single landmark containing the primal and the electric. Manic, river of the cup.

From here the wires and roads begin to multiply and connect when they crossed, meeting at transformers and small outposts of civilization. The absorbent stretches of trees became interspersed with logged areas which had a ridged texture. The supply lines of civilization became obvious – the electricity and raw materials began to collect and form their own shapes – buildings clustering into towns and logging trucks rattling down highways.

The sun begins to set as we fly towards it and the beauty is beyond words now.  The sky is on fire and then cools, clouds become like pearls, white shot through with pink, gold and blue. People on the plane are watching the in-flight movies as this is happening outside, shutting the blinds so they can see the screens better.

The final ray of light flashes and disappears behind the earth and my breath catches. Below, the lights of the houses and cars have begun to glitter, connecting to each other in shapes, the traffic lit up like neurons sometimes flowing quickly and brightly, sometimes clogged up and burning red with brake lights. A spaghetti loop of on ramps where superhighways meet spins around like an incredible idea.

The lights of the city have collected into a tight grid, and now I can see the tower at the center, surrounded by a crystalline collection of skyscrapers glowing at the edge of the vast dark lake, and my heart catches its own beat because this is Toronto, my home, even though I don’t want to admit it yet, I love it.

The plane turns and swings around to the airport and descends, and the city rises to meet me like Psyche meeting Cupid, the scale of it blowing up and also diminishing, from something incredible to something very ordinary as the plane hits the earth with a bump. Waking from a dream, taxiing to the gate and then the seatbelt light dings off, the people bustle and rush to get their bags from the overhead compartments, I press the button and my phone lights up.