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Home  >  Peer Work
10. New Eyes: Looking at a Place From a Different Perspective
By Gretchen Legler
Genre: Non-fiction
Year: 1997 Category: Student Examples

Writing Assignment:

The helicopter lifted the pilot and me off the ground, rising up effortlessly. It felt to me like a dream, like when all of the sudden you find yourself hovering above the houses on your street, or flying smoothly over mountains and forests with the wind brushing by your cheeks, looking down on everything below, everything that is familiar that all of the sudden from the air looks so strange. We were leaving Marble Point, a way station just west and north of McMurdo station, across the sea ice. This is where helicopters stop to refuel and where pilots stop to wait out weather. There had been a storm over the previous two days that had kept me anchored there, cozy, well fed and warm, with the wind hissing by outside the windows, piling up enormous drifts against the steps and doors. Finally came a sunny, cold, blue day, and we were off. After rising up slowing from the gravely pad, the pilot tipped the helicopter nose down and we started moving forward over the windblown snow and soil, out toward the ice edge. At first we flew over the still fast sea ice, the sea ice that had held strong against the storm. Out in the distance I saw a vague sparkling gray, which "Beez" Bonner, the pilot said was open water. The storm had taken out a lot of ice, taken it out to sea. The helicopter moved so smoothly and so fast, flying at about 500 feet. I could see the sea ice below me, vast and white, through a window at my feet in the rounded nose of the helicopter. The surface of the ice was marked by wind, blown into curves and stripes, swirls and hollows. I could see the shapes because they were different colors of white--bright white, gray white, yellow white, blue white. All of the sudden, it seemed, we were at the ice edge and the shapes below changed so dramatically it took my breath away. Instead of shades of white, suddenly there was a marvelous and beautiful contrast--the vivid white of the edge of the sea ice, sharp as a knife edge, and just there beside it, gray-blue open water. The color was the most noticeable difference--a sudden shift from white to gray-blue and inky black. Then there was the texture of it--the water was moving and smooth, full of tiny swells and chop. The ice was, as ever, still, solid, white. Drawing of seals on iceBelow me I saw seals, some of them lying face down at the edge of the ice, others caked with snow as if covered with a white blanket, lying on their backs and looking up at the helicopter. We were close enough so that I could just see their dark round eyes. Then there were Emperor penguins, some standing tall and walking toward the edge of the ice, others scooting toward the ice on their bellies. To see them from above they looked so small, but I knew they were at least three feet tall, up to my waist. From above them I could just make out the brilliant orange on their breasts. Later we would fly over groups of the much smaller black and white Adelie penguins, which ran from the noise of the helicopter. They seemed as if they were looking over their shoulders as they ran, their wings flapping wildly. We continued along the edge of ice and sea and I looked out far into the gray blue on one side, and far back into the sea ice on the other. By January all the ice we were flying over would be melted and all of this below us would be full of waves and blue, full of whales and penguins and seals, swimming in the open water. We neared Cape Royds, the land of Ross Island coming up fast in the window. Whatever I saw from the window of the helicopter was so large, as if I was sitting in the front row of movie theater and whatever was happening on screen was happening in overwhelming scale inches from my face. We flew over the Adelie penguin rookery at Cape Royds. It was full of birds, all tiny black specks in the rock and snow. Then we flew along the edge of the Barne Glacier, a wall of ice rising to my left, all creased and crevassed with blue and white, the ice fanned and wedged in fascinating patterns that ran from the top down the entire height of the 100 foot face. Finally, we neared McMurdo, which, compared to the vastness of the sea and ice and snow and mountains I'd just come from, looked miniscule below me, its brown and green and blue buildings like toys plunked down in some game. The helicopter settled lower, lower, and lower still, finally coming to rest on the gravely helipad with hardly a noticeable jostle or nudge.

Analysis:

What I tried to do with this exercise is describe something about a place from a different perspective, in this case, from the air. I tried to describe the perspective from which I was looking, and then how things seemed different from the air--different in size and shape. I also tried to describe the effect of moving smoothly and quickly over what I was seeing. I wrote the seals looked UP at me and the penguins did too.

Writing Assignment:

Try writing about a place you know or have been in from a different perspective. You may, for instance, want to get down on the ground and look at it from eye level. Or, if you can, take part of the place and put it under a microscope, or look at it through a magnifying glass, or binoculars, or a telescope. Or, you can climb a tree and look down on it, or climb a mountain and look down on it. Or, you can imagine yourself as a small person in amongst the environment, just as you could imagine yourself flying over it. The goal is to try to get a fresh look at the place. Include all the details you can that show how you are looking at the place from a different perspective, with new eyes.
Illustration is of seals on the ice as seen from the air. Copyright 11.24.97

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