Sky Writer


Copyright 2002 by Jon Bondy, All Rights Reserved.

You may send copies of this to individual friends, but you may not publish this work without permission

Jon Bondy,


I had back problems a few years back … nine years now, I guess.  I was not much of an athlete before the back surgery, but afterwards, there was very little I could do without some back pain.  Even picking up a full bag of groceries was beyond me for almost a year, and running and volleyball (my two passions in my 20’s and 30’s) were out of the question.  I did manage to walk up and hobble down Camel’s Hump (the Zump) in the first year after my surgery, but hiking seemed like it would go the way of running and volleyball.

I don’t recall which friend told me about Snake Mountain, but it rapidly became a favorite mini hike for me.  Located about an hour south of me, it is not a hike I would make frequently, but it has much to recommend it.  One can stroll up in less than an hour; I’ve done it in under an hour carrying a backpack full of camera gear (well, my back did heal up a bit after 3 or 4 years!).  And the hike is not without its rewards.  There is a small pond way up there, near the top, and also a large cliff overlooking the southern Champlain Valley.  There used to be a restaurant up there, on top of the cliff, almost 100 years ago.  People would go up in the late afternoon, have a pleasant dinner watching the sun set over the Adirondacks, and then take a horse drawn carriage down the hill as night fell.

There is often a prevailing wind, and the turkey vultures take advantage of the breeze, soaring back and forth along the cliff, so close you feel as if you can touch them.  In the fall, after the leaves are gone, you can look down on acres of bare forest, and sometimes see a deer wandering through the tree trunks.  I usually try to get up there before noon, so that I can look into the west (where the real view lies) without having to stare into the setting sun.

One day I was up there, feeling the breeze, watching the turkey vultures, and listening to the sound of distant traffic, just over a mile away, on Route 22A.  I glanced up when I heard a jet flying overhead.  Traveling north to south, it left a contrail high up in the sky, just to my west.  The prevailing wind, from the west, caused the contrail to drift slowly towards me, spreading out as it aged.

I realized pretty quickly that the contrail would cross the sun in a few minutes, but I was not ready for the dramatic nature of the event.  As the contrail drew close to the sun, the vague shadow it cast became clearer and clearer to me.  While the shadow was not distinct on the ground, it began to become more so in the air.  As the contrail momentarily covered the sun, I suddenly could see clearly down a shaded corridor that the contrail provided, running to the south.  I recall how clear the air was down that shaded tunnel.  A few seconds of this startling apparition, and then it was gone.

I had never seen anything like it, and I could not explain it.  After pondering about it for a while, I created a theory.  The contrail created a long linear shadow.  When viewed from the side, this shadow was almost invisible, but when one could look along the shadow, the lack of direct sunlight reduced the glare.  Dust and humidity in the air cause things to have a hazy appearance, but, along this shadowed tunnel, all of the illumination came from the side, not from above, and the glare was reduced.  This is what allowed me to look down the corridor so clearly.

Just goes to show: you never know when Nature (or Physics) will surprise you…