Topography as tonic

I hate flying. The more I travel, the worse it gets, and I was reminded of this yesterday on my way back from a week in Istanbul (I’ll have lots to say about the trip after my laundry’s clean). Mostly, it’s fear. I know the statistics, and I know it’s ridiculous, but especially after that rash of plane crashes last summer, I get nervous on every take-off and every landing and every pitch of the plane in the clouds. But it’s also guilt at the vast amounts of carbon my travel is spewing high into the atmosphere. I’ve vowed—frequently, and always in vain—to take trains and buses whenever possible, but I still end up on trips like this last one: 45 minute flight from Budapest to Vienna, 2 hour flight from Vienna to Istanbul, and just as much carbon on the way back.

So, plagued by guilt and racked by fear, I sit in my seat sipping weak coffee and munching on pretzels, and I pray for it all to end quickly (but not too quickly). On this trip, however, as we made our descent into Vienna, I realized that there’s a solution: topography. My geography student’s pure, simple curiosity about the shape of the land below, about how fields are plowed and neighborhoods built, about mountains in the distance and rivers running through, is enough to distract me and to calm me, and as long as I’ve got a window seat, I can make it just fine.

The carbon question is still significant, and I should probably channel my fear into better transportation habits, but now, if I’ve got to fly, at least the stress of it won’t send me to an early grave. Just another way being a geography major has changed my life for the better.

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