Takeoff

Today’s weather is the same as it was sixteen years ago today: brisk and beautiful, with turquoise-blue skies. I’m not sure if there is a meteorological reason why September skies are often so deeply, vividly blue, but that’s how the sky was on September 11, 2001.

Logan Airport flyby

Sixteen years ago, I was living in Hillsborough, NH with my then-husband, and September 11 was a Tuesday. I’d just started teaching at Keene State College, but I didn’t teach on Tuesdays that semester. Instead, I was working a part-time temporary job at a publishing company in Portsmouth, NH, about an hour and a half away from home.

Jet Blue on blue

That morning’s drive to Portsmouth was largely uneventful, but there had been a car crash on the stretch of highway between Concord and Portsmouth, and police had blocked the road and detoured traffic. I remember driving on small, rural roads through communities I’d never visited before. These were the days before ubiquitous GPS devices, and I was genuinely worried I’d get lost trying to find my way to work, but the day was so lovely, I almost didn’t mind.

Overhead

When I got to work, I learned someone had died in that crash: the first of the day’s many tragedies. But since I didn’t know the person who had died, I quietly settled into the cubicle of one of the of two women on maternity leave I’d been filling in for that summer. While I was working, someone sent out an inter-office email saying the World Trade Center in New York City had been hit by a plane, and I quickly skimmed and deleted the email. Since I was juggling this temp job with the new school year at Keene State, I had a lot of work to do that day, so I continued working without checking CNN or turning on the radio.

Wild blue yonder

The same thing happened when another email came around saying the second World Trade Tower had been hit: I read the email and kept working. I hadn’t seen any photos or videos of the attack, so I imagined a scary but somehow explicable accident wherein two planes had gone off track, clipping a wing against one and then a second skyscraper. Because I was busy, I was able to compartmentalize the news: something bad was happening in New York, but I was in Portsmouth, and I had a tall pile of work to do. I was probably the last worker in my office–the last person in America–to realize the gravity of what had happened.

Fly-by

I wasn’t until lunchtime that I fully realized what was happening. I was supposed to attend a staff meeting, but everyone was so upset by the news from New York, several coworkers and I went for a quick walk instead. It was an attempt to dissipate some nervous energy on a clear autumn day that was too beautiful to spend inside. When we got back to the office, I finally saw my first glimpse of the attack.

Overhead

A throng of co-workers was crammed into a single cubicle, huddling around a computer to watch CNN, and that was when I saw for the first time the incessant replay of planes crashing and buildings falling. Like countless others before me, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. It looked like a scene out of a movie, not something actually happening under an impossibly blue umbrella of September skies.

Overhead

Not long after my co-workers and I stood slack-jawed and silent around a single computer, our boss sent us home for the day: my co-workers to nearby homes and loved ones, and me to a lonely hour-and-a-half drive. The roads between Portsmouth and Hillborough were nearly empty, and I listened to the news on NPR while scouring the skies for planes. It’s been sixteen years since I took that long, lonely drive, and I still hold my breath whenever I see a distant plane fly anywhere near a city skyline, waiting to make sure it flies behind each silhouetted skyscraper rather than directly through.

Flyby

Last weekend, on our way home from seeing the sand sculptures at Revere Beach, J and I took a short stroll at Belle Isle Marsh in East Boston, a place we’d talked about exploring ever since our first outing to Revere Beach last October.

Egrets

Belle Isle is the last remaining salt marsh in Boston, and Belle Isle Marsh Reservation preserves 152 of the marsh’s 241 acres. Although most of the reservation is too marshy to be of much use to humans, these wetlands harbor a diverse population of plants, fish, shellfish, and birds.

More amenable to human visitors are the 28 acres of reservation land that are maintained as a park with landscaping, paths, and benches. Belle Isle Marsh is popular with local dog-walkers, baby strollers, and bird-watchers who don’t have cars, as the marsh is easily accessible via public transportation. Belle Isle is the kind of place you can drop by, briefly explore, and be back on your way, having taken a mini-vacation in less than an hour. While J and I explored the marsh last weekend, we saw several families taking afternoon walks with dogs and children, a chatty throng of middle-aged men on bicycles, and several lone men who seemed content simply to sit on benches in the sun. Belle Isle Marsh isn’t the kind of place tourists travel miles to see; instead, it’s a hidden jewel appreciated mostly by local folks.

Overhead

And then there are the planes. Although J and I went to Belle Isle Marsh intending to watch egrets, gulls, and other marsh birds, the most conspicuous “birds” flying overhead last weekend were of the silver-bellied gas-guzzling variety. Belle Isle Marsh is in East Boston, which means it’s directly in the flight path of Logan Airport. The egrets, gulls, and other marsh birds don’t seem to mind sharing airspace with silver-bellied gas-guzzlers; in fact, by the time we left Belle Isle, it somehow seemed natural to see wading birds fishing for aquatic morsels while a constant stream of planes flew overhead.

Humans, like many birds, are migratory creatures, their comings and goings following airline timetables rather than seasons. From the ground looking up, flybys are always awe-inspiring, regardless of whether the flying creature is feathered or jet-fueled.

Click here for a photo-set of images from Belle Isle Marsh. Enjoy!