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Airplanes and Fairy Gardens: Seeing Things from a Different Perspective

Jun 30, 2016 08:56AM ● Published by Matthew Schlueb

From an airplane, the earth is like a poached egg, a liquid spherical mass contained in a wrinkled skin; saturated with water on the surface, constantly in the process of evaporating and condensing. From an airplane you can see the clouds that nestle in a valley, hide a home or assure an abundance of crops. Clouds no longer blow by, but become a network in symphony when viewed from the sky.

Just before sunrise, water vapor suspended in the realm of an airplane precipitates, covering the whole earth in dew. Then suddenly the sun bursts through the horizon’s edge, the rays’ distance is enough for the whole day. Gnawing, churning the atmosphere, densities begin to operate, air masses gliding over each other.

From an airplane, the shades of grass reveal the degree of humidity in the soil. The law of gradients above or under the ground, the earth is not a uniform green. Water as vapor, dew, eventually a gathering river on a rotating top spinning at an inclined plane is manipulated by this faraway star.

The view from an airplane is not rushed but slow, unbroken, the most precise one can wish. One can recognize the rooftop of a settler’s home on a vast landscape, see the immensity of influence not often seen living each day so close to the surface. Perspective from above is quite different, transforming, meditative.

Such is the allure of a fairy garden. Our youngest son, Olin, and his mother went to the Phipps' plant sale on Mother’s Day and bought his first bonsai. A miniature conifer with dark green needles, yellowing at the tip, he trimmed it with a selection of fairy sized fauna, a park bench, and a magic urn for casting wishes. Colored with patches of moss, spreading ground cover and dashes of fuchsia flowers, this garden in a pot holds his imagination as he mists it with water each day.

"Where is the fairy's house?" he asks. Surely there must be a house. So, we pulled out a block of clay to shape one by hand. Windows and doors were pressed in with small little fingertips. Then a chance wood firing with a potter friend and his fairy house was complete, scaled to tuck in under the canopy of his rabbit-sized pine.

How could such a giant of the forest be so tiny? What sorcery has been invoked to keep such a spirit caged to these proportions? The time and methods may be unknown, but their effects are unmistakable. These miniaturized plantings, stirring the minds of children, hold the same effect as an airplane flight overhead. 

When our point of view is shifted, looking in on something from above, we comprehend the way things unfold, the interconnections of greater forces playing out in each life below. Fairy tales are more than a captivating story or lesson to be learned. They transform our thinking, to a mind's eye. An eye that sometimes catches a glimpse of a sprite as it flutters by.

Matthew Schlueb is a registered architect and owner of SCHLUEBarchitecture. For questions or comments, contact Matthew at This article is part of an ongoing series addressing architectural issues for homeowners.

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