Mitchell (from a 1996 interview with the Los Angeles Times): "I wrote the album while traveling cross-country by myself and there is this restless feeling throughout it... the sweet loneliness of solitary travel. In this song, I was thinking of Amelia Earhart and addressing it from one solo pilot to another, sort of reflecting on the cost of being a woman and having something you must do."
Amelia Earhart was a pioneering aviator who in 1932 became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean.
Amelia Earhart vanished while flying over the Pacific Ocean in 1937. Mitchell alludes to this when she sings:
A ghost of aviation
She was swallowed by the sky
Or by the sea like me she had a dream to fly
Like Icarus ascending
On beautiful foolish arms
Icarus is a figure from Greek mythology whose father, Daedalus, crafted him a set of wings made of wax. Despite his father's warnings, Icarus flew too close to the sun and his wings melted, sending him to his death in what is now called the Icarian Sea.
Joni Mitchell's friend David Crosby covered this for his 2017 album Sky Trails. He told Uncut: "I've always wanted to sing that song. I love that song! What a stunning piece of work she did, the two levels of it talking about Amelia Earhart and taking about her own love life at the same time, so eloquently, with such a beautiful set of words. Her version is quite ornate. I tried to sing it very simply."
Joni Mitchell sings in the first verse about:
Six jet planes
Leaving six white vapor trails across the bleak terrain
It was the hexagram of the heavens
it was the strings of my guitar
Amelia, it was just a false alarm
She explained the lyric to Robert Hepburn for Mojo magazine in 1994. "Basically the false alarm was the end of a relationship. Two scorpios couldn't let each other go. It was done, but we couldn't let go; we belonged to each other. It was winding down and I am driving solo without a driver's license across the country. I think of Amelia I think solo flight. I can't remember how many hotel rooms later it was complete."