Monday, August 9, 2010

♫ "A-standin' on the corner in Winslow, Arizona..."*

I didn't really grasp the concept of elevation until I moved to the West. I understood intellectually that higher elevations meant cooler temperatures and different topography, flora and fauna, but knowing something like that intellectually and experiencing several different elevations in the course of one afternoon are two very distinct ways to comprehend.

Our travels today took us from 2500 feet above sea level to over 7200 feet, then down to around 5,000 feet. The temperature swung from 104 to 72 to 86. Desert scrub and sandy, barren mountains gave way to tall pines and green-carpeted slopes, which in turn transformed into the dusty greens and gently rolling contours of the high-desert railroad towns along Route 66. The air stopped sucking the moisture out of everything not already bone-dry and started hydrating skin and tightening curls. (I imagine the wildlife also differed significantly from elevation to elevation, but I'm not particularly interested in fauna, and we saw neither snake nor mountain lion nor buffalo.)

Unless I've forgotten or something's changed in the last five-and-a-half years, one cannot travel by car from Chicago in any direction and encounter in the course of a single afternoon meaningfully higher elevations. (Lower elevations need not be mentioned; Chicago is barely above sea level.) So my Midwestern-born-and-bred understanding of elevation was based on book knowledge and the intelligence gleaned from travels by plane. Taking a plane to a destination that's novel, whether by reason of elevation or other attribute, is not the same as experiencing entirely different environments within 30 miles of one another.

I've been wondering all afternoon what else I might know intellectually, but not truly get because I haven't actually experienced it. I bet elevation isn't the only such thing.

*I really did write this post in Winslow, Arizona. Though I wasn't standing on that corner (or any other) at the time, how could I resist using the title everyone (or at least everyone alive in the 1970s) associates with this sleepy little town full of railroad- and Route 66-related history? Here are a few photos from Winslow:

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