In America, redeye planes fly east from Los Angeles to New York between sunset and sunrise, collapsing the night. The flights west from New York to Los Angeles predominate during the day, stretching it open.
The mass of the American air fleet leaps at the sun, west as the sun heads west, and east as the sun, beneath them and over Asia, resets to east again.
Northern birds slosh down from the pole to the equator in the late months, while southern birds are sloshing from the equator down to the south pole for their spring.
We humans have made, with all our fires and all our fuels, the longitudinal version.
Looking at the earth from above, centering over the north pole, watch night and day sweep around. See (Fig. 1) the planes winging helter-skelter around the rim. Now fix the line of dark against light steady and let the land and water circle beneath it. Watch (Fig. 2) the planes, in a continual flow to sunrise from sunset, like two hands cupping the earth from her sides.
A friend of mine makes a hundred grand a year optimizing the algorithms that arrange flight plans. In contrast, Helianthus annuus doesn’t know it twists its florets in the Fibonacci sequence. Our economy bristles with efficiency, with individual wills building and buying, collaborating and competing by the millions. But from the long view—and just as base, just as elegant—a field of sunflower buds, craning for light.
"Heliotropes" first appeared in Ninth Letter, Spring/Summer 2008.