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November 10, 2005: Touching down to land

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We were on our way home from another meeting up in Seattle - although this one started late enough in the morning that we could fly up and fly home in the same day. There was enough time between when the meeting finished and when our flight was to leave that we could take our time; relax in the huge open area in the central terminal at the airport and even get something to eat.

It's one of the nicer central terminal areas I've seen in my years of traveling. There are a few shops and food vendors ringing the perimeter, but the bulk of it is a huge open space, fronted by an entire, vast wall of windows that look out onto the runway. It was uniquely designed so that even though the area was crowded, the noise was muffled, so much so that we could converse in normal tones of voice.

I'm not sure which of us noticed it first, but eventually it caught us both. Hanging from the ceiling, suspended from nearly invisible wires, were hundreds of glass and metal objects, most of them appearing as if they were only a few inches across. In the bottom half of the midair sculpture the objects were fish, dolphins, surfboards, flotation rings, and other objects in a pale silvery blue. The arrangement was intersected at the center with a series of thin metal rings, and above it the shape of a huge bird was visible, composed entirely of hundreds of tiny brown and gold glass birds.

It took us a while, staring up at the sculpture, to realize that the bottom piece was actually the bird in reverse; in fact, it was the bird's reflection. And then we could see that the metal rings were meant to represent the surface of the water, disturbed by the bird's feet as they hit the water, and further emphasized by the tiny crystals - representing the spray of water flying upward from the impact - which hung just above the 'water', noticeable only once we started to look more closely. The longer we stared, craning our heads upward to catch all the details, the more we saw - the way the wires blended into the criss-cross patchwork of the ceiling so far above that they looked as if they just stopped in midair; the way the two images mirrored each other, one made of hundreds of tiny shimmering fish, and the other of hundreds of tiny soaring birds.

I am not normally a person who notices art, except to note that perhaps the colors are pretty together, or the image is nice, or disturbing, or funny. But very rarely does a piece make me stop and stare and want to see more.

I did not pull out my camera because I had a feeling I would be unable to capture the full impact of the sculpture that hung so high above our heads. The only pictures I've found online also fail to do the whole thing justice - they show only a collection of tiny dots that make up a shape, without expressing just how diverse and detailed each of those invididual pieces are. Maybe this is just something that isn't meant to be photographed; that you have to see in person. And I wonder how many thousands of people pass through that terminal each day, in a rush to get to their flight, too busy or too tired, or too stressed to appreciate the openness of that area; the wide expanse of windows; the bird soaring overhead, forever just touching down on the surface of some nearly invisible lake, wings outspread, made up of a myriad of tiny objects hung in so precise a manner that it makes my head spin just thinking of how someone could actually assemble it without going just the slightest bit mad.

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