The view from the fifteenth floor of the airport hotel looks out through a frame of pebbled concrete bolted to the structure. The pebbles are shades of pink and grey, harvested from local rock to make the brutalist sun-shading of the 1970s. I wonder how long the rock was there in the earth before they harvested it to create a place for business travelers to sleep between flights and meetings.
The window looks out onto a wide ancient plain between the forks of the Trinity River which has been almost entirely converted into a platform for launching hairless apes into the sky. Sixty-five million of them a year on more than two-thousand flights a day. They start coming at dawn and never really let up, making their own tunnels of wind just over the hotel, lined up in air traffic controlled constellations of avionic light threaded out across the eastern sky. Wide freeways lead to the airport from every direction, and to the parking lots of the seemingly infinite number of corporate hotels, identical office parks and shitty chain restaurants that append the complex, terrestrial mirrors of the network of hundreds of other airports that send the planes here and accept its departures.
I brought my trail running shoes for my weird weekend in this zone, and as I look out the window I imagine lines through the green space allowed by this Anthropocene overlay that straddles two counties and four muncipalities. There is an empty field right down there, a triangle of maybe four or five acres. In the field are twenty-seven bales of hay faded to grey, left there a long time ago, hidden at ground level behind the towering sunflowers of late summer. On Friday as I arrived men were laying a new road next to the field, preparing to pave it with every square foot of impervious cover the municipal development code of this particular suburb allows.
The water towers of Irving, of which there are many, each feature an image of wild horses running across these plains. And as I jog over the fresh-mowed Bermuda grass that grows in the rights of way, I imagine when it was like that here, with herds of fast mustangs roaming free, ready to be harvested like found money by enterprising pioneers. I am old enough now to realize how recently in time that was, and maybe even how brief a period a time of this place between the rivers was, because really the horses were as invasive as the imported grasses under my feet, an accidental gift of the Spaniards to the people who had walked here from the other side of the world.
Running along the grassy median of the road that follows the southwestern fenceline of the massive airport, you can see the people driving out of the brand-new subdivision of custom homes opposite the outer edges of the tarmac, and you can see that many of them are people who just got here from the other side of the world, or from the other class realities of this country. The sort of people who are not deterred by the signs in the lawns warning of the avigation easements encumbering the houses, agreements in advance to endure the noise of low-flying aircraft. They will not be here long, in these way stations on the way to American affluence.
Go mustangs, say the ball caps of the preppy old white people riding their BMWs to the SMU game.
On the other side of the George W. Bush Presidential Freeway, I noticed another wide field. As I stepped off the turf to cut through to it, I found native grasses coming up in a spot along the edge that evaded the bulldozers. The gentle grade of the field beyond that led up to an old billboard painted over black, accidental abstraction in a zone given over entirely to the self-expression of corporate persons. As I stopped to take a picture, a big hawk lifted off from the light armatures at the base, headed for a stand of exotic trees over there by the office park.
I came here for a weekend conference I thought was about imagining better futures, or at least other futures, but turned out to mostly be just another celebration of the repeat consumption of juvenile narratives of wonder by adults seeking escape from lives in the cubicles of those climate-controlled buildings. And on the last morning when I look out the window at the terminal to the sky, I realize this is that future that our predecessors imagined. I also remember the creek I saw flowing under the airport perimeter fence, and the prairie grasses I saw there holding out in a few square feet that the spreadsheets missed. I wonder how long ago it was that this plain was made by water, and whether these concrete creeks will overflow and drown the office parks sooner than the engineers think.