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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.

11 responses »

  1. Mark Richardson

    A sad end to a flight school that is part of so many pilot’s histories, including mine. The city of Auburn is trying very hard to get Green River College to move their aviation program down to the airport.
    We may see this scenario again, as the Auburn flight school manager who was in charge when the school closed, has found his way to another local flight school. I won’t mention any names, but it’s the newest flight school at Pierce County Airport. 😦

  2. Vanessa Jump Nelson

    Beautifully written, Summer. I felt like I was right there, and it reminded me, sadly, of when Evergreen Field in Vancouver shut down, as I watched the windsock being taken off the top of the building. But then you made me smile – you dug up hope and took it with you!!! I can imagine that little worm having his first flying lesson with you, Summer, the lavender plant along for the ride as well, in quiet awe of its new surroundings. I imagine a purple vapor trail of living history wafting behind your airplane as you flew home with your treasure. I would love to see a photo once it’s planted again. A song is playing in my head, “High hopes…high apple pie in the sky hopes…Whoops there goes another lavendar plant.”

  3. Mike Weinfurter

    Last night Meg told me you’re selling the 120. Told Terri Hull today. We both hope it gets a good home. Won’t sell the Birddog Unless destitute. Sorry to hear. You have the Prince, but you’ll miss it. Take care.

  4. Summer you always have a knack for staying grounded all the while dreaming of playing with the clouds…lucky worm on a journey of a lifetime! Um lavender love the purple haze from above when flying over a large patch.Oh yes purple haze!!!

  5. Loved the smells, sounds and sights. You have real gift for writing.

  6. Always sad to see a long time aviation business dissolve into history. Lavender is one of my favorites. Glad you were able to preserve another piece of your past. You’re very good at that by the way. 😉

  7. Summer –
    I abslutely loved your recollections (especially having been one of the many “sweaty palmed ones”)
    Having visited yur humble abode I believe that the lavendar will survive and thrive quite necely.
    I wsh I could afford to buy two planes so I could own the 120 in which I shared so many memorable hours with you getting a barely deserved taildragger endorsement.
    I saw Maria Morrison today when I was up at 0S9 renewing my PT Aero Museum membership and talking to Jerry about the hangar for rent. I was pleased that Maria didn’t get off-put by Neil’s pushing her too hard to fly. Jerry was positively gushing with admiration for where Maria was in her approach to flying.
    She was at least a foot taller than she was when I was taking lessons from Linda…….time flies when you are having a good time. And you are having a good time when you are flying…right?

  8. Summer

    It’s been awhile and I wondered if you might be closeted away working it all out …

    Today, the Saturday before Easter, I heard the familiar sound of your plane and rushed outside to wave madly up into the sky as I always do when you fly by. Now voila! your blog reappears and carries me up there with you, making my spirit soar. Thank you for sharing your sky vistas.


    Margaret Lee

  9. We always carry our history with us, but not always have mementos of it. The scent of your lilac will always carry you up into the sky, no matter how many more hours you’ll be rooted to the ground. Ed and I waved at you and the Prince yesterday as you looped Hastings. A perfect day to fly. But as much as I love seeing you in the sky, I also love to see your writing.

  10. Lavender is always special, but now even more so after reading this lovely tale! And such a nice surprise to see the blog back to life!!

  11. Nice story Summer, The first entry in my logbook and in fact the logbook are from that school about 12 years ago. It wasn’t long ago that I was that totally nervous student pilot taking my exam from you. Happy flying, Bri 🙂


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