Uncomfortable Corners

Subscription Preview

This article by Ana Maria Spagna first appeared in the March 6, 2017 issue of High Country News with the title “Together we pause.”

To read the full article, you must log in or subscribe. Enter your email address:

Together we pause

Sometimes we need to stop — to think about the ways we wreak havoc in the world.

A crowd gathered by the window, staring out: Our plane had arrived. Early summer on a budget carrier, there were fewer wing-tipped passengers waiting than usual, more families in flip-flops, plenty of kids dragging mini roller bags. There’d be no empty seats on this plane. We’d take a short hop to Oakland then transfer to Seattle, Denver, Minneapolis, and beyond. With the boarding call expected any minute, the waiting area should have been loud and lively, but I emerged from the bathroom to utter silence.

I stood on tiptoes to try to see over the crowd, three rows deep, but I could not.

“What’s going on?” I whispered.

No one replied.

I’d seen a cop earlier, fully uniformed, not TSA, so I wondered if there was some kind of high-speed chase in progress on the tarmac — we weren’t that far from Los Angeles, after all — or maybe a medical emergency. I knelt down to try to see between people’s legs. As I did, I noticed that several men had removed their ball caps.

Then I saw. A casket had descended the baggage chute, flag-draped, secured in a frame of two-by-fours. Soldiers marched forward, five men and one woman, in full-dress uniform. They lifted the casket — the body — in unison and moved it to a rolling gurney. Then they stepped aside. Heat rose in waves from the asphalt. Nearby mountains stood barely visible, shrouded in wildfire smoke and ocean haze. All planes and vehicles and orange-vested employees stopped.

The family stepped from station wagons, a large family, mixed race, arm-in-arm, well-dressed. They approached the casket to have a moment to themselves.

With all of us.

Ground crew remove a casket from a Delta flight as members of the U.S. Navy salute.
Brendan Smialowski/AFP/ Getty Images

Sample Gallery

From our friends

HCN in the outhouses of the West

From my Alaska trip: I flew into a small town that is not reachable by road, then hopped on a motorboat and drove across lakes and rivers for 2.5 hours to reach the scientists' camp way out in the boondocks -- out there they have a few rough cabins and a generator that makes electricity only in the evening and two outhouses -- and lo and behold, for reading material in the outhouses they have issues of the Economist magazines and HCN -- amazing to discover HCN readers way out there!

Ray Ring, HCN Senior Editor

From a HUGE admirer

I just want to tell you that I'm a huge admirer of High Country News. The reporting, the stories you write — it's so important to those of us in California who see ourselves as part of the West and share all its issues. And they're always all so well-written. When people I know move to the West, I give them a gift subscription.

— Dr. Stephanie Pincetl, UCLA