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Just for Fun, and then Some…

“Hey lady!” a squeaky boyish voice behind me called. “Is that your plane?” Another young voice said, “Wow, this is cool!” I straightened up from the horizontal stabilizer, holding a dripping sudsy sponge and turned. Four boys astride BMX bicycles were looking at me and the Student Prince, their eyes bright and curious, reminding me of young squirrels.

No older than twelve, they had the look of boyhood summer vacation; tanned arms, frayed jeans that were too short, faded t shirts, their hair needing trimmed. The tallest kid had a dirty blond bowl cut that was buzzed up the back of his neck, the long hair on the sides falling forward and covering big brown eyes. There was a chubbier boy with an affable smile,a medium sized kid in a striped shirt with a red stain on the front, and the smallest, a wiry dark haired boy with an impish grin. Astride their bicycles on the dusty late summer road, the scotch broom bushes behind them in full bloom, barn swallows swooping overhead, they seemed straight out of a movie.

“Hi guys,” I said, “what are you up to today?” I wiped soap from my nose and squinted at them. The littlest one spoke up, “Well, we were just riding our bikes on the power line and found this place! Is this the airport?” They were clearly enthralled with their unplanned adventure and listened closely when I replied, “Yes it is, and that’s my airplane there,” I pointed to the Prince. “I’m just giving it a bath.” The boys erupted in chatter, exclaiming, “That is so bitchin! A real airplane, how rad, and look! It doesn’t have a roof!” Their excitement was infectious and I said, “Listen, if you help me finish giving the airplane it’s bath, I’ll take you each for a ride in it.” “Oh WOW, that is AWESOME!” they pushed their bikes to the grass by the hangar and walked to biplane, two of them high fiving each other.

I gave them each a sponge or a rag and dumped the bucket of old dirty water, refilling it from the hose and adding soap until it bubbled over the rim. “Now listen up guys,” I said loudly enough to quiet them down, they looked at me expectantly, “First you want to get the airplane wet with the hose,” I demonstrated, squirting the fuselage ahead of the tail, “but be careful not to get any water in the cockpits,” I pointed, “I have to sit in the back one, and you will ride in the front. I don’t want to look like I peed my pants.” The boys giggled, the tall kid peeking shyly at me from beneath his bangs with a dimpled smile. “Then, you rub it with the soapy rag, getting all of the dead bugs and grease off. After that, you want to rinse it really well, avoiding the cockpits.” The boys nodded earnestly. “Ok,” I said, “go to it.” In a flurry of energy, the boys quickly sorted out who would run the hose, and what part of the airplane to wash first. I stood back and watched.

In no time, a water fight erupted, adolescent voices on the verge of deepening cracked as they whooped and laughed, fighting over the hose, slinging wet soapy water from the sponges at one another, their sneakers squishing. When they settled down and began scrubbing the surface of the biplane, the small boy contemplatively rubbed the rudder with a soggy rag, “Isn’t this just the best you guys?” he said, “We’re together and we get to do something.” All the other boys nodded, “Yeah.”

The airplane didn’t look much cleaner an hour later, and I could plainly see where spots were smeared with grease or had been missed all together, but I didn’t say anything as I emptied and rinsed the bucket. The kids were soaked and grinning, proud of the fun they were having. I told them all to pose in front of the airplane for a photo, and they gathered round, the chubby boy sitting on a step ladder, the two larger boys behind him, arms around one another’s shoulders, the small boy next to them. “Ok then,” I pointed the camera at them, “say biplane!” Just as I was depressing the shutter, there was a loud crack! The step ladder crumpled and broke, the boy who had been sitting on it sprawling on the asphalt in surprise, the other three boys falling down, shrieking with laughter, holding their stomachs. “Hey you guys! It’s not funny!” The boy who had broken the ladder tried to sound offended, but he started laughing too. I managed to snap a photo of the chaos; the broken ladder and mirthful boys on the ground, looking as innocent and playful as a box of puppies.

When the hilarity had abated, I asked them, “Are you ready to go flying?” The littlest one pumped his fist into the air, “Yes! And I get to go first!”

“Alright then,” I grabbed the left wing handle and pulled, turning the biplane toward the taxi way, “let’s get you ready.” I placed extra cushions in the front cockpit and gave the boy the smallest leather helmet. The other three boys paid rapt attention, watching as I fastened the helmet under his chin and instructed him on getting into the biplane. “First, you must stay on the black part of the wing when you get in and out.” I pointed to the black non skid near the fuselage on the lower left wing. “Otherwise, you will go directly through the fabric, making a hole in the wing.” His impish cockiness vanished and he focused seriously on what I was saying. “Next, you need to face forward, grab this strut near the windshield and swing you leg up and over the rim of the cockpit, and stand on the cushions with both feet.” I demonstrated, “Then, slide down and sit.” “Okay,” I stepped off the wing, “your turn!” I realized just how small the boy was when he had to make a big step to clamber onto the wing and I gave him a boost to swing him into the cockpit. Standing next to him on the wing, I reached into the cockpit and fastened the seat belt snugly across his small waist. “Now you see this?” I pointed next to his left arm at the black and red knobs, “these are my engine controls, and they will move. Don’t touch them ok?” He nodded, “Ok.” I patted him on his head, “What’s your name?” He replied, “Kevin.” “Alright Kevin, let’s go flying!” I swung into the rear cockpit and buckled my helmet.

The three boys whooped and waved as we taxied away and Kevin’s little hand waved back. Two barn swallows followed the biplane as it taxied, the birds swooping and soaring in counter clockwise circles around the airplane, the back of Kevin’s helmeted head barely visible above the cockpit rim.

When I taxied onto the runway and lined up, Kevin turned his head and looked back at me with wide brown eyes. I nodded reassuringly, smiled and advanced the throttle for takeoff. After a short roll, I pushed forward on the stick lifting the tail and correcting with rudder to stay on center line. The biplane responded willingly and rolled on its main wheels gaining speed and seconds later I gently pulled back, the airplane leaving the ground and climbing briskly, the hangars growing smaller, while three dots near the windsock waved vigorously. I pushed the stick left and right briskly, rocking the wings, the biplane waving back.

Discovery Bay came into view beneath the left wing, the sunlight sparkling on the blue surface, the Olympic mountains in the distance snow capped. I watched the back of Kevin’s head as it swiveled left and right, taking in the view. I could see him smiling, his eyes bright, all trepidation gone, his bravado and impishness returning. I banked right, gauging his reaction. The boy leaned into the turn like a dog riding in the back of a truck, looking down the wing tip at the valley and the golf course, his head sticking out into the slipstream. I knew then that I wouldn’t have to fly gently with him, limiting bank angles and rolling in and out slowly, the kid clearly loved it.

Rolling quickly, I did some steep turns left and right, leveling the wings crisply after 360 degrees of turn, the biplane bumping as it flew through it’s own wake. Kevin looked back at me with a wide smile, holding his thumb up. Smiling back, I did a couple of wing overs, pulling the nose up high in a bank and letting it fall, slicing through the horizon, the sound of the wind growing louder as I pulled the nose up again in the opposite direction to complete the pattern. I could hear Kevin faintly over the Kinner engine as I throttled back, “Wheeee!” He turned around with raised eyebrows and with his index finger, he described a circle. There was no question; the little fellow was requesting a loop! I nodded and added power, climbing for altitude and looking for other airplanes.

Lining up over a straight road, I lowered the nose below the horizon gathering airspeed, making sure my wings were level. Pitching up firmly and briskly, the G forces beginning to push me into my seat, I added full power as the nose arced through the horizon. Nearly vertical, I noticed that Kevin’s head was no longer visible, that he had completely disappeared. Fully committed to the loop, there was nothing for me to do but continue the maneuver, pitching over the top, the wheels of the airplane pointed at the sky and the nose tracing it’s way down to the ground again.

In the few seconds it took to complete the loop minus any visible sign of my passenger, my mind quickly deducted what had happened. Past experience had shown me that youngsters are more sensitive to G loads, finding them altogether new and odd, not sure what to make of the sensation of being twice or even three times their weight in an instant. I assumed that when Kevin felt the three and a half Gs going into the loop, and having never experienced the sensation before, he turned turtle and tucked into a ball. Nearing the bottom of the loop, in order to avoid pulling more Gs, I sacrificed symmetry for comfort, relaxing on the stick and neglecting to pull hard. My maneuver looked more like a Chinese character than a circle.

When we reached wings level, Kevin’s head popped up like a Jack in the Box and he turned to me, eyes huge. Even though I couldn’t hear him, I clearly understood what he was saying as he wagged his finger back and forth. “No more! No more!”

I chuckled as we headed back to the airport. Even the small, the young, and the fearless have their limits.

“Hey lady!” a squeaky boyish voice behind me called. “Is that your plane?” Another young voice said, “Wow, this is cool!” I straightened up from the horizontal stablilizer, holding a dripping sudsy sponge and turned. Four boys astride BMX bicycles were looking at me and the Student Prince, their eyes bright and curious, reminding me of young squirrels.

No older than twelve, they had the look of boyhood summer vacation; tanned arms, frayed jeans that were too short, faded t shirts, their hair needing trimmed. The tallest kid had a dirty blond bowl cut that was buzzed up the back of his neck, the long hair on the sides falling forward and covering big brown eyes. There was a chubbier boy with an affable smile,a medium sized kid in a striped shirt with a red stain on the front, and the smallest, a wiry dark haired boy with an impish grin. Astride their bicycles on the dusty late summer road, the scotch broom bushes behind them in full bloom, barn swallows swooping overhead, they seemed straight out of a movie.

“Hi guys,” I said, “what are you up to today?” I wiped soap from my nose and squinted at them. The littlest one spoke up, “Well, we were just riding our bikes on the power line and found this place! Is this the airport?” They were clearly enthralled with their unplanned adventure and listened closely when I replied, “Yes it is, and that’s my airplane there,” I pointed to the Prince. “I’m just giving it a bath.” The boys erupted in chatter, exclaiming, “That is so bitchin! A real airplane, how rad, and look! It doesn’t have a roof!” Their excitement was infectious and I said, “Listen, if you help me finish giving the airplane it’s bath, I’ll take you each for a ride in it.” “Oh WOW, that is AWESOME!” they pushed their bikes to the grass by the hangar and walked to biplane, two of them high fiving each other.

I gave them each a sponge or a rag and dumped the bucket of old dirty water, refilling it from the hose and adding soap until it bubbled over the rim. “Now listen up guys,” I said loudly enough to quiet them down, they looked at me expectantly, “First you want to get the airplane wet with the hose,” I demonstrated, squirting the fuselage ahead of the tail, “but be careful not to get any water in the cockpits,” I pointed, “I have to sit in the back one, and you will ride in the front. I don’t want to look like I peed my pants.” The boys giggled, the tall kid peeking shyly at me from beneath his bangs with a dimpled smile. “Then, you rub it with the soapy rag, getting all of the dead bugs and grease off. After that, you want to rinse it really well, avoiding the cockpits.” The boys nodded earnestly. “Ok,” I said, “go to it.” In a flurry of energy, the boys quickly sorted out who would run the hose, and what part of the airplane to wash first. I stood back and watched.

In no time, a water fight erupted, adolescent voices on the verge of deepening cracked as they whooped and laughed, fighting over the hose, slinging wet soapy water from the sponges at one another, their sneakers squishing. When they settled down and began scrubbing the surface of the biplane, the small boy contemplatively rubbed the rudder with a soggy rag, “Isn’t this just the best you guys?” he said, “We’re together and we get to do something.” All the other boys nodded, “Yeah.”

The airplane didn’t look much cleaner an hour later, and I could plainly see where spots were smeared with grease or had been missed all together, but I didn’t say anything as I emptied and rinsed the bucket. The kids were soaked and grinning, proud of the fun they were having. I told them all to pose in front of the airplane for a photo, and they gathered round, the chubby boy sitting on a step ladder, the two larger boys behind him, arms around one another’s shoulders, the small boy next to them. “Ok then,” I pointed the camera at them, “say biplane!” Just as I was depressing the shutter, there was a loud crack! The step ladder crumpled and broke, the boy who had been sitting on it sprawling on the asphalt in surprise, the other three boys falling down, shrieking with laughter, holding their stomachs. “Hey you guys! It’s not funny!” The boy who had broken the ladder tried to sound offended, but he started laughing too. I managed to snap a photo of the chaos; the broken ladder and mirthful boys on the ground, looking as innocent and playful as a box of puppies.

When the hilarity had abated, I asked them, “Are you ready to go flying?” The littlest one pumped his fist into the air, “Yes! And I get to go first!”

……To be continued (don’t you hate that?) I have to fly a jet tomorrow. A simulated jet, but that means that all kinds of wild emergencies are guaranteed, and I need to have my wits about me. It’s time to rest up.

Stay tuned, this story has a really beautiful ending, I promise.

Spring

I have a friend who goes barefoot most of the year. She’s done so all of her life, and she says it keeps her grounded. Her feet are beautifully shaped, with well spread symmetrical toes. Sometimes she adorns the toe next to the pinky toe with a silver ring. By the end of summer, her soles are so thickly calloused, that she files the excess skin on the bottom of her feet with the fine edge of a hoof rasp, walks freely across sharp gravel and stubs out cigarette butts with her heel.

Following the long days of northwest winters; dirty cars, muddy floors, wet dogs, dark clouds, rain and wind storms that bring trees down and litter the streets with branches and garbage cans, any indication of springtime is celebrated.

When I see my friend’s bare feet for the first time in months, I know that winter is truly in the past. There are also the bulbs. Every year I am amazed that despite the frosty temperatures of late winter and very early spring, the crocuses emerge from the ground though I have neither weeded nor remembered them for the previous eleven months. Exotic and bold, they open their shimmery violet petals wide in the afternoon sun, and close them in the evening chill. Close behind the crocuses are the sweet daffodils who spring up quickly and unfurl their yellow tops; smiling and waving in the breeze, nodding their heads, keeping tempo with the songs of the frogs.

Sometimes it will have been months since I have rolled the green hangar doors on their tracks, sunlight slicing through the opening and illuminating the Student Prince.

I rarely fly the biplane in the winter. On those infrequent winter days when I do fly, I am inspired by a high pressure system producing deep blue skies and endless sharp visibility. On cold clear days, the radial engine on the Prince must run for several long minutes at idle before the oil temperature has warmed enough to fly. Bundled up under so many layers of clothing that stepping into the rear cockpit is challenging, I am nearly frozen sitting behind the icy slip stream with no heater as the oil warms.

When I finally taxi onto the runway and takeoff, my discomfort is rewarded as the biplane springs into the thick cold air and climbs heartily, the winter views of the Cascade and Olympic mountains surreal in their snowy craggy beauty, the fresh icy air stinging my nostrils.

Last Saturday, it had been months since I’d flown the Prince. The crocuses had long since bloomed and faded, and the daffodils were in full glory. I impulsively drove to the airport and parked by the hangar, rolling the metal doors open. A swath of sunlight landed on glowing red paint, the Student Prince sitting quietly on the concrete floor, its nose pointed skyward.

My fingers brushing its cool taut fabric skin, I walked around the airplane and checked the oil, the tires, the fuel, the stainless flying wires. Satisfied, I stood in front of its spinner, grasping each wooden blade of the propellor and rocking back on my heels, pulling, I slowly coaxed the airplane out into the sun.

It looked like a jewel, a piece of art, each line so functional and lovely, the cream wings shining in the sun, the red fuselage assuming an orange cast in the bright light. More than the sum of it’s parts, the metal framework covered by fabric, two wings, a wooden propellor with five cylinders sticking out of a metal cowling. A flying machine.

My mechanic Scott pulled up on his motorcycle with his little boy riding in front of him on the gas tank. Telling his son to go play in the ditch with the frogs, Scott walked to the biplane and stood in front of the propellor as I stepped onto the lower wing, swung my leg over the rim of the rear cockpit and sat down behind the control stick. I adjusted the cushions, straightened the seat belt and fastened it. Turning on the fuel valve, I twisted the primer knob on the wooden instrument panel, pulled it out and pushed it in, repeating it four times before securing it. Pushing the mixture control forward and pulling the throttle to idle, while confirming the magneto switch was in the “off” position, I said loudly to Scott as he stood near the prop, “OK, the switch is cold, let’s pull it through to prime it.” Scott stepped in front of the propellor, grasped the blade and pushed in down as if he were winding the rubber band on a giant balsa wood model. He pulled the propellor through several times, and then said, “Shall we try it?” I replied, “Sure,” and turned the magneto switch to the “L” position. I called, “Switch is on, brakes are set, mixture’s rich, throttle closed. Hot!” Scott grasped the propellor blade again and pulled it briskly down. The engine coughed, sputtered and caught, the propellor spinning in response to the RPM, a cloud of gray smoke blowing from the exhaust.

My hair swirling about my face, I grinned broadly at Scott, giving him a happy thumbs up. I placed the magneto switch to “Both,” leaned the mixture, and put my leather helmet on before I advanced the throttle, the biplane beginning to move. The smell of freshly mown grass and engine exhaust made me hum while I taxied to runway 9,  the Kinner engine clattering in my ears.  I eagerly anticipated the sky where  I would share views of the Sound with birds and returning to earth, I would see bare feet.

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Almost but not quite

April Fools Day 2013

Dallas, Texas

It’s hard to believe that I have been flying jets now for 14 years, and that every year, at least once, sometimes twice a year, I attend five days worth of recurrent training specific to the jets I currently fly. The training consists of two full days in a classroom reviewing aircraft systems: Fuel, electric, hydraulic, pneumatics, flight controls, etc. The classroom also covers emergency indications and procedures, and airplane performance. Following the ground school, three sessions are spent “flying” in a full motion, FAA certified, Level D flight simulator.

The flight simulators are a marvel of the modern technological world; an enclosed box reached by walking from a cat walk on a gangway high above a concrete floor and entered through a door, the gangway rising up and away from the simulator after the door is closed. Inside is an exact cockpit of a particular jet, with two control yokes, two pilot seats and a third seat behind for a simulator instructor.

Hydraulic gear legs extending from the base of the simulator are secured to the floor with massive bolts. The legs expand and contract, causing the simulator to roll and pitch in response to several constantly changing variables; pilot control input being one. The view out the simulator’s windshield offers convincing images of runways, terrain, cities, hangars, fog, snow and other airplanes.

The flight simulator is an invaluable training tool, allowing pilots to review and practice dangerous scenarios and procedures safely. Engine fires, emergency descents, single engine approaches, the loss of an engine during the critical phase of take off. All of which are costly, hazardous and/or impossible to achieve in the actual airplane.

Sitting slightly above and behind the pilots in a chair with a control panel, the simulator instructor is able to program endless scenarios; failures of systems, loss of engines, fires, rapid loss of pressure, weather and other air traffic into the computer. The instructor is also able to freeze the simulator on the ground or in the air, or reposition it to another geographical region.

At the end of the session, the instructor pushes a button and maneuvers that were flown during the session are printed out; squiggly flight paths looking like Etch a Sketch doodles, the airplane’s longitudinal and lateral deviations during approaches with altitudes and airspeeds plotted on a graph.

When the simulator flight centers are busy, rows of simulators run twenty four hours around the clock with some unlucky flight crews drawing ungodly times in “the box” to accomplish their annual training; rows of van sized simulators simultaneously pitching, rolling, collapsing, stretching and hissing on their silver legs.

I was invited inside the the flight center’s newest machine, a state of the art Gulfstream 280 simulator. I eagerly accepted the invitation to sit in the pilot’s seat and take the controls. The instructor at the control panel programmed the simulator’s geographical position and suddenly, I was flying over Port Townsend.

It was thrilling and creepily real; every landmark and feature I had been looking down on for nearly 30 years exactly where they should be and nearly perfectly rendered. The cliffs of Whidbey Island a few miles across the water, the brick courthouse on the hill, my old high school a few blocks over. North Beach and the lagoon appeared out the window and I could see the airport, runway 27 clearly visible.

I buzzed downtown, flying two hundred feet above the bay behind the ferry dock at 300 knots with no concern for regulations, noise, danger or other air traffic, but feeling slightly guilty just the same.

Then I turned to the west, away from town, Protection Island flashing past, the Dungeness Spit and Port Angeles in the distance. I spotted my house and banked steeply toward it, the realistic feel of the simulator as it pitched and rolled coupled with the convincing visuals caused me to do two things in unconscious expectation; I braced for g loading and looked down at my pasture for the horses.

The state of the art machine was unable to produce either.

Remnants

Yesterday I flew my Cessna 120 home to Port Townsend with a lavender bush; some dirt and an earthworm still clinging to its root ball, the  fragrance of lavender filling the cockpit, mingling with the faint smell of 100 octane avgas.

A picture perfect Spring day, the Puget Sound air was scrubbed clean and I could see all the way north from the Auburn Valley to the misty blue San Juan Islands.   A small layer of puffy white clouds added to the beauty, and I enjoyed views of downtown Seattle, the jagged line of waterfront skyscrapers, the Space Needle and the city’s newest addition, a waterfront Ferris wheel on a pier north of the ferry landing.   The tops of the Cascade and Olympic mountains sparkled with snow, the sun glinting off the waves of the Sound, the plume of smoke from the Port Townsend Paper mill visible on the horizon thirty miles away.

A few hours earlier, I had arrived at Auburn municipal airport, touching down on runway 34 in light winds, pleased that my landing was perfectly aligned and on the center line.  Even after all these years, a good landing is something I never take for granted.

I taxied to the ramp and shut down in front of the old flight school, newly vacant after forty years of continued service.  The squat building felt empty, and it was.  The windows were void of their blinds and revealed a desolate lobby where shelves of aeronautical books, headsets, plotters and sectionals had been, dust settling on the floor.  The water cooler, coffee pot and front desk had vanished.  I couldn’t see beyond the lobby into what had been one of the Puget Sound’s oldest flight schools, but I knew that the classrooms were empty too, cleared of the tables, desks, chalk boards and instructor’s lectern, the row of computers unplugged and removed, a map that had hung on the wall taken down.  After decades of students, nothing remained but the empty building and a lavender bush.

Over the years, I had visited the flight school several times as a traveling pilot examiner.  Sweaty palmed test applicants would be waiting for me with their flight instructors in the lobby.  After greeting everyone,  I would check paperwork and logbook endorsements, and if all were in order, I would begin a flight exam.

The flight instructors at the school were good at their jobs, and more often than not, after their students and I had spent several hours together on the ground and in the air, I would determine that the student had met the test standards established by the FAA, and issue them a private pilot license, an instrument rating, or their commercial pilot license.

On these occasions, everyone present at the flight school, the instructors, other students, the receptionist, and family members would share in the newly licensed pilot’s joy, and many smiles and thanks would usher me out the door as I walked to my airplane to leave.  Just outside the lobby door, near a patch of lawn and a picnic table abutting tie downs for the training airplanes, a huge lavender bush commandeered twenty square feet of space, pushing through the chain link fence, threatening to take over the side walk.   In late summer, the fragrance of the blooms was sweet and bees hummed as they busily dipped in and out of the purple flowers.  I would pick a few lavender sprigs, laying them on top of my instrument panel, smelling them while I flew home.

Yesterday I landed at Auburn municipal, taxied to the ramp and tied my airplane down in front of the vacant flight school.  As I  placed chocks under the Cessna’s wheels and studied the empty building, I saw the lavender bush, still thriving, still alive.  Before I left a few hours later, I borrowed a shovel from the airport manager and dug a small piece of the lavender bush up, shaking off the excess dirt and placing it root first behind my seat in the Cessna’s baggage area.  I saw the earthworm then, bright pink, small, and tightly wrapped around the root.  I briefly considered taking the worm and placing it back in the dirt by the mother plant, but I didn’t.

Instead, I flew home with a living piece of shared history and a young worm, a marine layer of fog creeping in from the Straits of Juan de Fuca, covering up what was.

Boredom is boring

“Boredom is no longer an option.” I heard her say after she had told me that her excuses for not seeking and experiencing life full on seemed just plain ridiculous. I was listening in astonishment to my friend, who like most of us, had let fear of the unknown and an aversion to imagined risk stop her from chasing life down and living it full on. Being fully aware that she was allowing her dreams to be quelled before they even saw the light of day was tormenting, and it perpetuated her sense of resignation and hopelessness. Fully aware of her paralysis yet unable to move beyond it fed a sense of self loathing which kept her frozen.

And then, an opportunity presented itself. An opportunity abundantly ripe with potential and potentially fraught with risk. And someone asked her point blank, “Why don’t you?. She promptly broke out the tried and true, the automatic laundry list of excuses, reasons and can’ts. But this time, she heard herself, and suddenly the reasons were insignificant and puny. Silly trifles she had given her power, her life to for so long. So she kicked those so very logical, so very responsible, so very reasonable reasons square in the teeth and said yes, yes,YES!!! to real and imagined risk, yes to adventure, yes to her soul. The prison cell disguised as “security” has been breached, her spirit vibrating with the ecstasy of freedom. She has found herself again, and there is no going back.

It has been my experience that souls who decide to cast off the chains of fear disguised so cleverly as responsibility, maturity, conformity, safety etc. recognize one another and are drawn together as magnets are to steel. My friend is already experiencing this. Dreaming vividly and in full color, she is having conversations with a tall woman named Amelia Earhart. Expressing her delight at meeting Miss Earhart, the famous aviatrix replied with a smile to my dear friend, “I have been wanting to meet you too, but you didn’t want to talk to me last year.”

What is it you may ask that my friend has said yes to? What opportunity was so compelling that it knocked her excuses and reasons flat? Like the kid who has climbed tremulously up the seemingly stratospheric ladder to the high dive for the first time and stood frozen in fear trying to muster the courage to step into the void, she has done so and taken that step. But unlike most, content to fall in a straight line into the water to emerging seconds later spluttering at the surface and transformed, delighted to find that they are alive and that it was SO FUN stepping into the void, that they can’t wait to climb the ladder again, my sky sister has stepped into the void to perform a somersault, a full twist and a swan dive. Breaking from her “safe” routine of flying locally to the same airports within a 150 mile radius, she will be flying her single engine airplane across the Atlantic to Europe and back this summer. That’s all. I guess she has a lot of bottled up dreams. And boredom is no longer an option.

Well hello, it’s been some time….

ImageLayers of time, layers of memories while in the midst of layering more. A strange, strange concept, the one of time is it not? A swirl, a mist, a meteor speeding at an ever increasing pace. Babies grow up in a week and you don’t realize it until they drive up in a car, get married and have their own babies. People age, they die, they move in and out of your life. And there you are, watching, while it sweeps by and one day, whether you care to admit it or not, you realize that you haven’t been a passive bystander at all, but a player like everyone and everything else. There’s no escaping it. And unbidden, the questions creep in. The ones all the other saps have always trilled. Who am I? What matters? What am I doing with my life? When I’m gone, will my having existed matter? And no matter how hard you try to juggle the balls that have always seemed so significant; keeping the bills paid, the toilet scrubbed, the appearance of being an acceptable human to your friends, neighbors, kids, and dog, the questions will become louder, more insistent and sometimes even wake you up. When I flew an airplane across the continent last summer something happened to those voices. While I was in the midst of living moment to moment, trusting in myself but never certain of the outcome and knowing that there were too many variables to control, I found myself letting go of fear. I could have gone stark raving cotton mouthed mad had I pondered the fact that all that was between me and massive jagged peaks were a few thousand feet and a wood and fabric machine I magically rode in. I mean really! I was riding in a box kite with no visible means of support, yet I flew. And I didn’t go mad. On the contrary, I became very sane and very happy in the moment. Every cloud, every scent, every thrum from the faithful radial engine fed my peace and contentment. I was connected to others in a way I had never before experienced. Everyone seemed to be a part of me and I a part of them. Chrissy’s dimpled smile flashing back at me from the front seat while her hair whipped around her face, Jerry’s gentle hugs and tender concern for our well being, the people on the ground in the small towns we alighted in, seemingly long lost members of a family I barely remembered yet so glad to see us again and I them. I wasn’t haunted by questions about my existence because I knew the answers. I was me, uniquely me but never alone. What mattered was the experience of love in every form. I was doing exactly what I wanted to be doing in each moment and I will never be gone because love never dies.

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