Friday, December 10, 2010

Zeppelins and Rain

In the 1930s Hugo Eckener, piloting the Graf Zeppelin east across Siberia, turned far north to avoid storm fronts. He came finally to the Stanovoy Mountains. They were reported to be 5,500 feet high, and beyond them would be the Pacific. But at 5,500 feet, they were still going up, with icy ridges on either hand, the mountains still loomed above him. The zeppelin had a theoretical ceiling of 8,500 feet, but Eckener doubted, if they went that high, and then spilled enough hydrogen to get back down again, that they would get ever get the airship back to inhabited lands. And nobody really knew how high the mountains were. It was deadly cold.

At six thousand feet, they finally made it over, and the clouds opened, and ahead of them was the blue Pacific. The mountains dropped steeply on this side, and in a few minutes they were warm and sunlit, in a green country, on their way to an ecstatic welcome in Japan.

Eckener openly despised the Nazis. Goebbels tried to persuade him to paint huge swastikas on the body of the Hindenburg, and Eckener refused. Swastikas on the tailfins, sure, like any other aircraft: but he wasn't having his ship made into a floating billboard. It's a bit of a mystery how Eckener survived the Nazi years. There is a story that Hindenburg made Hitler promise to leave him alone. It's plausible: Hindenburg admired Eckener, and Hitler admired Hindenburg.

December. Yesterday a searching rain drenched me, as I rode down to the Library Foundation. My gloves and the sleeves of my jacket were soaked through, and even my rain pants failed me, letting water through the inner seams, so that the groin and inner thighs of my jeans were soaked. I was cold and uncomfortable all afternoon. Most of my gear had dried out by evening, but when I started suiting up for the ride home, I picked up my gloves and they were still heavy. I twisted them in my hands and a dribble of water ran out of them onto the floor. I wore them anyway. But the ride home wasn't bad. The rain had nearly stopped by then.

It's grounding to have to attend to the weather, and to be out in it every day. Keeps the hypos from getting the upper hand of you, as Melville would say. There's something obscurely damaging to the spirit about living too much in controlled environments, and always having the temperature and light suit your whim. If you don't have any struggles with unwelcome sensory stimulation you start making up emotional disturbances, just to make sure you still exist.

No comments: