From Sand to Snow

Departing Tampa under sunny but chilly skies, our flight paralleled the west coast of Florida, crossing the numerous beaches, islets, sand spits, wetlands and meandering rivers that characterize the region. After passing Cedar Key and the Suwannee River delta, the north coast of the Gulf came into view, with St. Vincent, St. George and Dog Islands forming an archipelago just offshore.

As we passed east of Tallahassee, plumes of smoke appeared across the Coastal Plain, where farmers were torching their fields to prepare for the coming spring. Further north, we crossed the Walter F. George Reservoir, on the Chattahoochee River, and then passed the tortuous arms of Lake Martin, northeast of Montgomery, Alabama. Nearing Birmingham, the topography became more interesting, as a ridge and valley landscape marked the transition from the flat Coastal Plain to the south end of the Appalachian Plateau.

A bank of clouds, just north of Birmingham, was the leading edge of the latest cold front and the clouds continued to thicken for the rest of our journey. While, at 35,000 feet, the sunshine of the South remained with us, I knew that our next view of the ground would produce a jolt of reality. Sure enough, our descent through the clouds began ninety miles southeast of St. Louis and, when the Mississippi Valley finally emerged, it was quilted with snow-covered fields and shrouded by a gray winter sky. After all, it is January and we were back in the Heartland.