Islands of light

I’ve been traveling a lot lately by plane. This is somewhat embarrassing (I am changing the planet‎!), but I have to say, I love the views: the clouds in all their variety as they stretch out below like a sea or a white cottony forest; the cities or small towns, the checkerboard fields and lakes, the orderly rows of wind turbines on land or at sea.

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German wind power

I love the way the light lasts longer as the sun sets when I am heading south, and airborne sunsets that become fiery displays of color. I’ve tried to capture these images on my cell phone, but it’s impossible to get the right tones, or the entire perspective of a wind farm.

On my latest flight home, I sat by a window and peered into the dark, looking down as Sweden passed below. And I was surprised: where I thought I would see darkness, instead I saw light — clusters of lamps lining highways and back roads, farm building illuminated in pools of yellow, and dense clusters of houses and apartment buildings flung across the land. The only patches of dark in some places were the iced-over lakes and over water of the Baltic or Lake Malaren.

This land is not as empty as it would seem from the surface, where forests hide what’s behind. Despite the perception that this is an empty, agricultural land, if you look carefully at the NASA image below, you will see bright lights on the east coast of Sweden that rival any other major metropolitan area around the world. I think of Stockholm as a small town, a dense center surrounded by pastoral lands. Instead, the Stockholm area is a giant mass of lights.

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NASA’s images of Earth’s city lights (http://visibleearth.nasa.gov/view.php?id=55167)

(NASA image)
[NASA has a beautiful explanation of their Earth Lights at Night images here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q3YYwIsMHzw]
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Sunset on the way to Spain

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