Posted by: paywindow7 | September 9, 2020

Flaggs Flight

Flagg sits motionless in the moonless midnight, listening. There in the  blackness he hears it again.

He has released the lock on his seat in the nose turret of the Lockheed P2V-7 Neptune Navy patrol aircraft on an ASW mission and moved it as far forward into the nose turret as the track mechanism will allow. He switches off the small red light illuminating the intercom panel to his left and is now in total darkness.

His position inside the clear canopy around and in front of him makes him feel suspended in space with the only light coming from the overreaching canopy of stars that blanket the night sky from horizon to horizon in all directions. Those points of light overhead show and sparkle in the black ocean a few feet below so that the horizon is nearly impossible to discern making his immersion in the night complete. That image of the diamond like stars against the black velvet sky surrounds him.

The vision and the feeling in those moments are surreal and he feels, again, part of a cosmic join up from his seat in the aircraft to the most distant reach of the universe.

A meteor streaks across the sky adding to the light show, one of many that are seen on every night flight. He knows that they break apart and burn to mostly ash upon entry into the atmosphere then fall to earth. He wonders how much of that debris has come to rest as dust on the surface of the ocean below then slowly settled to the bottom. What pieces of the universe have streaked across the face of other planets, moons and stars in other galaxies and now lie submerged in the water beneath him.

The sound that he feels is caused by the roar and vibration of the engine on each wing as it permeates into the atoms of each molecule of every piece and part on the aircraft creating a deep felt pulsating drone sound that always reminds him of an orchestral oboe or the native, ancient speak of the didgeridoo.  The separate pulsing drone of each engine seems to seek resonance with the other as the time between the undulations begins to narrow, becoming closer and closer together until they both merge into sync, hold together as one for a few seconds, only to separate again and the concert starts anew repeating again and again throughout this and every flight. He knows that as long as that sound is there he will stay alive.

The nearest land is 600 miles behind and to the west of him. The airflow, inches from his face, on the outside of the canopy is moving at hundreds of miles an hour. He wonders what would happen if the glass nose turret canopy were to break apart at that speed and, since he is so far forward of the rest of the airframe, if there would be anything left of him. But he feels comfortable and at ease in spite of the possibility.

His soul is at home.

Posted by: paywindow7 | September 2, 2020

St. Elmo’s Fire

It appeared out of nowhere. At first glance it was not visible, then, there it was. A glowing sphere comprised of orange lines that reminded of the latitude/longitude lines that encircle planet Earth. No way to measure it of course but it appeared to be a bit larger than a basketball. Just sitting there, on top of an aircraft wing that was moving over two hundred miles an hour.

It’s late night, a few hundred miles east of Miami, flying an ASW patrol mission for the U.S. Navy…..in a hurricane. We had been searching for a Soviet sub that had been sighted in that area the day before. Soviet submarines liked to hide under storms. They would drop a couple of hundred feet below the surface, which cleared them from most of the storm’s rough water, and the heavy weather made it harder for us to triangulate their position to get a ‘fix’.

When we had gotten ‘on station’ in full search mode we were in a storm but it wasn’t a hurricane…yet. Then the radioman got a call from D.C. giving us orders to break away from the search pattern and head south into the big banger to gather “other information”. The aircraft that storm is trying to destroy is a powerful, and tough, Lockheed P2V-7 Neptune, designed and built to operate and survive in those conditions. The crew inside, flying and operating the airplane and the surveillance and ASW tracking gear it carried and used, not so much.

Riding a thirty ton tin can in a hurricane is interesting. While being thrown around inside the fuselage, in bounce and careen mode, Sir Isaac’s laws of physics come into full focus. In heavy weather, the aircraft is continually pummeled by strong, swirling and churning wind currents that boom it left and right and cause it to suddenly lift up then drop back all within a few seconds causing everything and everyone on board to feel the heavy positive G’s then an eye blink later, the negative G’s that can make anything that isn’t secured, levitate.

On this day at this time I had pushed away from the radar chair, after about four hours of operating the thing, and the relief operator took that seat. I staggered back into the ordinance compartment to catch a quick break before going back to spend some more hours operating the submarine tracking gear. Now I was strapped into the seat next to the observation portal in the aft section of the airplane, portside. Not really sitting more like bouncing, and being slung against the seat harness by the weather forces banging the aircraft.

Looking out that port window was the black night that was no longer black because of the continuous lightning of the storm. Continuous. In that light I could see the tip tank at the end of the port wing that carried extra fuel.

And that’s when it got weird. As I was watching, the orange, sphere shaped object sat in place inboard of the tip tank, briefly, then started to move toward the fuselage in a slight bouncing motion along the top of the wing and as it got close to the port engine nacelle it disappeared. Just vanished.

When I described what I had just seen to other crewmembers all I got were blank looks and suggestions we all rendezvous, post flight, at Murphy’s Lounge ( again) to wind it around the bar.

After the flight, and we were back at the squadron hanger, I went to the office of the weather officer and described what I had seen. He said, since we had been flying in big weather, it was probably some variation of the St. Elmo’s Fire phenomenon. Loopy things happen under those conditions.

Obviously this happened many, many, many years ago but the event has always stayed tucked away in a corner of the memories file in my head. Over those years I’ve done a lot of casual reading and research about weather and atmospheric phenomenon and none of what I’ve read comes close to matching ‘my’ St. Elmo’s Fire trick.

So, who knows. There it was and there I was. Just nature putting on another mind boggler. Good show though.

Posted by: paywindow7 | February 6, 2020

SNL

I was raised during a period of American history when the morals of our society that had been established for many generations were, for the most part, still understood, accepted and followed. Was it a perfect time? No, absolutely not. There was crime and lawlessness as in every communal gathering of humans but there was a consensus that most of what had made the country great in previous times was still the way to conduct our cultural business. It just made sense.

I first noticed the smirking, sneering and bullying of all things American and moral by a perverse entertainment trade that pandered (and still does) to the more base of human characteristics. It was the main theme of a t.v. show of the time called Saturday Night Live. Truth be told I laughed, too, at a lot of the sewage that spewed out of those weekly…things. My fault, my bad. What was termed entertainment covered the television and movie screens, the most powerful communication venues since the Sermon on the Mount, to create a new world view of “if it feels good do it” and that messaged out: If you ignore my laziness and cowardice this time then I’ll ignore yours later when you do similar (or worse) things. We’ll put it all under the cover that we are righting some kind of previous societal hypocrisy. The worst part of that time, as now, was not only that the product was made available but that it was bought by the viewers.

Posted by: paywindow7 | March 22, 2018

An Odyssey

From childhood I’ve had the feeling that some part of me was just along for the ride, taking notes for future review, and that I was the official observer of me. Even when heavily involved in something I’ve always felt I had a third eye that was, somehow, watching me from afar. My Mother passed when I was 12 and in later years, in looking back at that tragic time, I can remember a sudden, surprising and vaporous feeling of being detached somehow, from the fear, confusion and pain of loss. A part of me has always been locked in that dark alley moment and now, as I’m about to top the last hill, I’m burdened with questions about who, what or why I am. My mother had developed MS and my dad, my sister, brother and I had been living with her parents as her health continued to worsen. After her death my father took my seven year old sister and myself out of our grandparent’s home and moved all of us across town. My brother Don was only two at the time so my mother’s parents had adopted him. There was no such thing as grief counseling in those days so my sister and I were expected to learn to take care of ourselves. Our Dad helped by supporting us and our aunt Vera showed us how to do some homemaking tricks when she could but we had very little contact with the rest of the extended family.

As a kid I was a voracious reader and prior to my mother’s death I had been reading a book about Alaska and the adventures of some of the early bush pilots in the Yukon. After my mom passed away and as a distraction from those times and as a coping mechanism, I suppose, my mind decided that I wanted to go fly airplanes in Alaska even though I was just barely preteen. My dad shot the idea down, of course, so I went on to finish high school and try my hand at college. Big mistake, in college I had the worst classroom instructors before or since. I hated it, and near the end of my first year I dropped out and joined the Navy.

Military service was a very important time in my life and for some reason I fit right in even though I had no idea what I was getting into when I raised my hand to take the oath. Boot camp was in San Diego, and was annoying but I had a pretty good idea of what they were doing and why, so I did the work and got through it OK. After leaving boot camp I was deployed to Brunswick Georgia to be trained as an aviation control tower operator. Unfortunately my vision did not make the cut and I was transferred to a school in Jacksonville Florida that trained aviation electricians. Upon completion of that course I was assigned to an Anti- Submarine Warfare (ASW) squadron based in Jacksonville, Florida. I worked in the squadron’s electrical shop for a short time doing service and maintenance on the squadron aircraft. After doing that work for a few weeks a vacancy on a squadron flight crew became available. Nobody else wanted the job because those aircraft and flight crews flew almost daily and each flight was 8 to 12 hours long. But the thought of flying all over the world as a crew member on a Navy warplane appealed to me so I raised my hand with an ‘over here’. The military moved me from being an ordinary kid with very little direction or motivation to someone engaged in activities that affected international events. During that time, which was at the height of the Cold War, We were heavily involved in airborne Anti Submarine Warfare work, searching for and tracking Soviet subs and shipping. We also performed intelligence gathering activities for NATO while flying out of various military bases in the Bahamas, the Caribbean and NATO bases in Europe, the mid east and North Africa. Every couple of years we were deployed  to a NATO base in Sicily allowing us operational access to the Mediterranean, Aegean and the Adriatic Seas tracking and photographing Soviet submarines, warships and freighters. The Soviets, of course, were doing the same thing with U.S. military targets, for the same reason. We, searching for them, as they were looking for us.

During the summer of 1962 it was observed and noted that many of the Soviet freighters, crossing the Atlantic on southerly headings, were carrying containers exposed on their top decks that had not been seen before. Over the next few weeks we kept them under constant surveillance observing them…..closely. I can’t say we didn’t harass them and it was common for them to flip us off as we roared by at 100 feet off the water taking pictures of them and their cargo. It was edgy but when you’re twenty years old you see yourself as being bullet proof and while I was conscious of the dangers, being stalked by MIGS was just a part of the show.

There has been a lot said about the Cuban Missile Crisis during the fall of 1962,  that put the United States and the Soviet Union on the brink of  an all out nuclear war that would have decimated the planet Earth. If you were born after 1962 you were almost not born. Everything and everyone you see around you at this moment would not exist. Our planet would now be burned and desolate.

Written history of that time states that the Cuban Missile Crisis lasted for about two weeks. Wrong. The Navy was tracking Soviet submarines and Soviet freighters for weeks before and after President Kennedy’s televised announcement to the American people that the Soviets and the Cuban government were setting up nuclear missile sites targeting the United States. A quarantine was put into place around Cuba to block anymore incoming ships carrying more Soviet missiles. As part of that quarantine my squadron, along with many other ASW squadrons based along the east coast, flew patrol aircraft all over the Atlantic from Bermuda south to Trinidad. The mission of those flights was to search for, find and track Soviet subs, warships and freighters. What is never fully revealed in the history books is the danger of that time. Castro wanted war with the United States especially after he became an ally to the Soviets and he had them to fight it for him.

The years flying in the Navy increased my interest in aviation and that interest would stay with me for life. The patrol flights were long and frequent, each covering hundreds of miles and eight to twelve hours a day. That in-flight time increased to 14 hours during the Cuban Missile Crisis with no days off. It was during these flights that I eventually became aware of an affinity with the aircraft and the laws of physics that were at work to create and maintain sustained flight. I also developed a sense of comfort when in a remote environment, and believe me the middle of the Atlantic Ocean is about as remote a wilderness as you can find.

After leaving the service some years later, I took my new and growing family back home where I worked as a surveyor with the Texas Highway department. We were laying out the new and growing network of interstate highways that were crisscrossing north Texas, as that system grew and evolved across the state and nation. It was especially interesting to me to use the construction (blue line ) drawings prepared by engineers and designers, then calculate the dimensions, angles and coordinates of various control points that would determine the shape and course of the highway, then take that math and then, physically, put those points in the ground.

From there I worked for a major aircraft manufacturing corporation for many years. After the first two I could feel that, by now, familiar restlessness. I felt at the time that I wanted to do something else but what that “something else” would turn out to be I had no idea. But I had a family to take care of then so I could not jump and run as before so I stuck it out for another few years then left to try my hand in other industries. Before making the change from factory manufacturing to the corporate environment there were some radical changes to my persona that had to occur. My personal communication skills were not up to corporate par so I had to go to school and learn what I needed to know. That school was Highway U. with classes and labs conducted on the street so to speak. I would go into a store (clothing , appliances, furniture or especially auto dealerships) with a scenario in my head then engage a salesperson and take mental notes about how that salesperson had greeted me and reacted to what I told him and how he had progressed through the selling process to closing. Later I would play the “I said, he said” game over and over in my head. It wasn’t easy but after a few years it resulted in a small business of my own and more confidence in my ability to re-arrange the landscape of my professional life.

Then the big leap into the volcano of uncertainty starting in residential real estate sales then moving into commercial /corporate property sales and leasing. A few years later I moved into the insurance business. Five years later after a promotion to sales manager and a growing feeling of frustration with the actuarial aspect that is an essential to that world I again changed careers. The time spent in both those ‘training’ industries was immensely valuable and I learned a lot about how businesses work and had good success. So I left the insurance trade and took a temporary job with a sign company. I took that job to give myself time to evaluate where I had been and what I had learned to determine my next move.
Of all of the different types of industries in which I had been involved, the signage industry was the most demanding and complex of them all. When I tell people that I get quizzical looks like “the sign business is complex? It’s mostly construction, how can that be”? But it’s true, If you have a national retail chain and if you want a quality product on each of those locations that is going to last; going to conform with the rest of your ‘big boxes’ with national brand identification continuity; advertising and marketing brand name to logo standards; good readability in all-weather and environmental lighting at all hours of the 24 hour day during all seasons of the year; and (here is a most important factor most buyers don’t consider) be ‘legal’ by conforming with local construction and sign codes, it’s complicated. It’s an industry made up of manufacturing corporations that are almost invisible to the public and yet to fabricate and install those products for national accounts is very complex. The temporary job went away and I was asked to continue on as a permanent employee. So I woke up one morning and went to work at a new job in national accounts signage and went back to sleep 30 years later.

It was during the last few years before retirement that I allowed myself to revisit the ancient fantasy I had in flying. There is an area of wilderness an hours drive away from home where my wife and I had taken our kids when they were young to get away from all things urban and tune in to nature. In that remote area was a rural airport that we would drive by on each adventure and when passing it I would glance, casually, at the comings and goings of the many small craft that called those runways home and would feel a resurgent desire to get back in the air. These family outings lasted for over twenty years then one afternoon as I was driving by that airport alone, I could see the busy air traffic activity and for some reason I stopped dead in the middle of that country road and out of the blue I suddenly found myself wondering what flight lessons would cost.

A couple of weeks later, same road, same airport activity but this time I drove into the airport and made contact with one of the flight instructors there. He was a retired international airlines captain who maintained his addiction to things airborne by teaching others to fly. On my first training flight, this very professional instructor, walked me through the preflight and start up process. He continued pointing out this and that as we taxied to the business end of the runway and upon reaching it we turned and looked straight down the white centerline of the runway. He said “I’ll get us up while you put your hands on the yoke and your feet on each of the rudder pedals so as we take off you will be able to feel what I’m doing”. Ok I thought, that makes sense I guess. So he pushes the throttle handle to full power and we start to move down the runway with him telling me to notice this and that and to feel the controls as he did this and that. Then we lift off and his instruction dialog continues and I’m trying to feel what he’s doing and how the aircraft reacts. Now we are about 100 feet in the air and still climbing out and suddenly he say’s “You have the airplane” and takes his hands off the yoke and holds them to his side. My heart leaps into my throat as I try to keep us straight and the nose up and we continue to climb while he corrects me here and there. We finally gain some altitude, in spite of my green horn ineptness and us going up and down like a porpoise in the Gulf Stream. But he got the result he wanted and I was hooked and spent the next couple of years in flight training for my private pilot license.

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A few years later my wife and I were vacationing in Alaska where we stayed a few days at a B&B in Palmer and while she and the lady running the place became best buds, I took a tour around town and discovered, you guessed it, a very nice municipal airport. So I booked a flight with the owner of a Cessna there for the next day. As we were roaring down the runway for takeoff it occurred to me that this part of my life had now come full circle. From the early years when I wanted to go to Alaska to fly to escape the pain, I was now in Alaska, about to lift off the runway. As we reached rotation speed I eased the yoke back and felt the nose wheel come off the ground and a second later we were airborne and I laughed out loud.

Now, as I look back, I seem to be constantly wondering: Why. Asking God: why did that happen, why did I do that, why didn’t I do that, why did I make it through that, how did I manage to accomplish all that I had done and been to all those places. The one ‘life note’ that makes it all worth while is my family. My wife Becky and my sons Mike and Scot who are good men . Strong, smart and committed to helping their own children. So I guess when I’m gone God will tell me the why and the how. His why and how.

Posted by: paywindow7 | July 2, 2016

The Dardanelles

I was trolling that vast TV waste land a while back and came across a program (CNN I think) that was reviewing the Cold War era. A largely forgotten time that was way beyond dangerous and very few people really knew just how bad it was. The Castro nut job strongly wanted a war with the United States. Especially after Cuba and the Soviet Union began holding hands and he had Khrushchev to fight it for him.

If you were born after 1962 on planet Earth, you were almost not born. Everything you see around you today, including yourself, came within a click of being destroyed or never happening. The Earth was on the brink of becoming a dead planet and that tipping point lasted for many weeks

The colors, that day, were striking. We had taken off from Athens, before dawn, and after some time flew into a most spectacular sunrise. The sea below, the Aegean, a rich cobalt blue, stretched to the west towards Greece and north to the eastern run of the Grecian coastline. A short distance beyond that coastline was the perpetually shadowed Bulgaria where the Soviet MIGS stalked that day, in a watchful orbit messaging “don’t come here”. The blue to the south was also perfect, all the way to the Mediterranean then west to and thru Gibraltar and into the Atlantic. Looking east, the shadows on that horizon were Turkish with a gap that placed the opening of the Dardanelles. The entrance/exit of the Black Sea.

The air was smooth with no bumps to match the flat, almost wave less water below. A calm bright day.

For once.

Looking out, the airplane seemed to be suspended and inert hanging under more beautiful blue accompanied by the forever drone of the engines.

NATO intelligence had word that the Soviets had built and launched a new destroyer warship, probably out of Mykolaiv near the Ukraine coast of the Black Sea. Of course they wanted to get pictures of it, and it would be much easier, and less expensive, to send us ( my squadron aircraft and crew ) from our deployment base in Sicily, to get those images as the new Soviet craft left the communist controlled Black Sea. Easier and much cheaper than trying to locate it in the future while it did it’s sea trials in the open waters of the Atlantic.

There is only one way out of the Black Sea: West through The Bosporus, across the Sea of Marmara then the Dardanelles into the Aegean and don’t let the door slam behind you. A narrow channel and waterway that runs through Turkey with water deep and constant enough to carry a warship.

So here we were, orbiting west of the gateway of the Dardanelle Straights over international waters boring holes in the sky and waiting. On this flight I was running the ECM gear sitting beside the radar operator. He had given me a nudge and pointed to the blips of the MIGS on the radar screen and as we watched, we could see them forming up like a growing pack of Bulgarian wolves to the north, just within range of our radar.

Then, over the intercom, I heard the pilot ask the radio operator “did you get that” and the radio man responds “affirmative”. Something in his voice made me turn  and look aft toward the radio compartment. As I looked he turned to me with eyes wide and open mouth and signaled me to go to “select” on my intercom control. When I had him dial selected I keyed the mike and said” What”?  He continued looking at me across the wing beam and said ” We just got a verbal radio call by someone speaking English with an east European accent greeting us by our tail number and reciting our entire crew by name and rank. It must have come from one of the MIGS”. I doubted the MIGs would have that info. They wouldn’t know, they wouldn’t care as long as they could get their missile sights aligned. But somebody ‘over there’ knew. Spooky, very spooky.

Now all of this was during the height of the Cold War, a few months before the activation of the Cuban Missile Crisis ‘quarantine’ when the massive destruction of us and all was imminent. Both the United States and the Soviets were nose to nose 24/7 and intelligence gathering was rampant on both sides to say the least. But this was new. This was a biggie. How did the commies know who was on board this aircraft at this moment. They not only knew the crew, but they also identified, by name, the NATO photographer who was unknown, even to us, until that morning during the morning darkness pre-flight.

The new destroyer never came out but we  continued to fly the grid in large patterns for a few hours just in case it did come out, burning gas until the fuel burn became an issue. All that was known was that the call came from somewhere inside the Soviet Union but I’ve often wondered who made that call.

 

 

Posted by: paywindow7 | January 29, 2016

Knik! Knik Glacier that is

Knick Glacier

Knick! Knick Glacier that isAre you sure this is LaGuardia?

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Posted by: paywindow7 | September 2, 2015

Police

We hire people to be police officers then pay them a fraction of the money the job should call for. Then we give those officers complex procedures to follow to go up against bloodthirsty criminals and international psychopaths who have no rules. I understand that we are a rule of law society and must have rules and legal procedures but some of them increase the danger to the officer exponentially. Then when there is an incident we hire other people, people who do not have the capabilities required to be officers themselves and were not standing in that officers shoes at the moment the incident occurred, to micro analyze the officers actions. We are at war and those officers and first responders are our first line of defense. We thank military personnel for their service as we should. We should also show support to the police.

Posted by: paywindow7 | August 25, 2015

Cowardly Acts

A recurring horror in our culture is the attack by a heavily armed assailant on a group of unarmed, unsuspecting non-combatants including children. In any language that’s a cowardly act and yet it’s not called cowardly by media reporters or even the police. The word coward seems to have disappeared from our language. The media uses words like terrorist, shooter or, as in one instance after the Aurora Colorado atrocity, warrior. That foul piece of excrement isn’t a warrior, you couldn’t melt him and pour him onto a battle field.

When the media, whose work is no longer journalistic, does their word dance to describe these cowards the others out there like them get the idea that if they perform a similar foul act the media will smear their face and name on the TV screen, and they do.

We have an increasing segment of our society that are weak and needy and desperate to gain, even for a moment, some public image or recognition. The media has the bully pulpit which is the most powerful communications venue in history and it bears the responsibility to identify those perpetrators for what they are, loathsome.

Posted by: paywindow7 | August 25, 2015

On the road again,,,

The predawn light outlines the mountain peaks to the east while the view out the drivers side window to the west is still in shadow. I’m sitting in the drive way of a truck stop about to head out onto the highway and behind me the lights are bright and I can here some of the semi’s cranking up. I’ve just refueled the truck , had an early breakfast and now trying to decide do I turn right or go left. The road here is straight as a string 40 miles in both directions and each way leads to mountains. I love mountains.

There is no traffic in sight and I listen to the muted rumble of the engine in my pickup and a deep feeling of freedom takes hold. I hit the CD player on and crank the sounds of ZZ Top to eleven. I pull straight ahead onto the highway and as I cross the center line I turn. Which way?  Makes no difference.

Posted by: paywindow7 | August 25, 2015

Denali

There’s a place I know that defies description. A place so stunning in mass, texture, color and scope of existence that words cannot begin to capture it.

A few years ago I was in Alaska with my son and we decided to go check out Denali. The official name for the highest peak of that collection of mountains is Mount McKinley, a tag foisted on it as some kind of Washington DC political herky jerk from many years ago. To me it’s Denali, so named by the native indians of that world hundreds of years ago. Denali is the highest peak in North America at over 20,000 feet and when considering the height of the rise from the mean elevation surrounding it at it’s base to the top of the peak, that rise is greater than the rise of Mount Everest.

On our way to Denali we had stopped for lunch in a small town about three hours north of Anchorage called Talkeetna. Talkeetna has a rich, rough and tumble history going back well over a hundred years. The core of the downtown is only about three blocks long with many of the original buildings restored and in use today. Some of those buildings are retail storefronts to serve the many tourists, some are bars that have been bars for many generations, some are hotels and some are cafes and bakeries owned by world re-known chefs that create and present gourmet food that would make any Parisian squeal with envy. It’s interesting that in any of those bars and restaurants, if you listen close, you’ll hear French being spoken at that table, German over at that table, Italian or Asian over there. Talkeetna is a staging area for mountaineers from all over the world.

So Scot and I are eating a gourmet level lunch in a small café downtown when suddenly the front door bursts open and a character looking like he was only a few steps in front of a pursuing grizzly yelled: “its out, its out” and the whole place went nuts. Waitresses, customers, cooks and bottle washers stampeded out the front door and we were left sitting by ourselves. Thinking it might possibly be some kind of fire drill we strolled out the front door and into the street where a crowd was gathering including our café staff and others that were streaming into the street from other businesses nearby. They were all looking in the same direction and when we turned to follow the pointing fingers there it was, in all of it’s magnificent splendor. Denali. The high cloud formation that normally conceals the top of the peak had, for reasons unknown, disappeared, hence the call of “it’s out, it’s out”. The rays of the midday sun were putting on a show as it illuminated every bit of ice and every snow flake into a surreal image of brilliant, sparkling white, natural beauty.

Our waitress from the café walked over to us and suggested we should go immediately out to the local airport and see if someone was taking a flight up to “the glacier”. We didn’t know what she was talking about but found out that whenever The Mountain “came out”, like it had just done, it was sometimes possible to fly through the surrounding mountains and wing back through the gorges and canyons and, if all went well, land on Ruth Glacier.

We made a dash for the airport and arrived in time to climb aboard a bush plane that was headed for the top. Within minutes we were roaring down the runway and had barely lifted off when the driver began a slow turn to the northwest toward the now blazing white mountain radiating against the burning blue of the sky behind it.

I’m in the right seat feeling and absorbing the deafening roar that is the engine melded into the gutteral buzz of the three bladed prop. We had cleared the airport but continued climb power with the distant vision of Denali centered up in the windshield. A mass of white that seemed to dimenish the sunlight. We climbed over the three river junction that is Talkeetna then across rising tundra into the roll of foothills. As we closed with the mountains their peaks vertically shadowed and streaked with glaciers and crevasses in present day and ancient snow. We reduced power to cruise speed then altered coarse between two of the mountains slopes into a granite canyon whose walls on each side of our flight path were rugged and coarse as you would expect but in places appeared to be smooth. The pilot explained that it was thought that the movement of the glaciers over the millions of years had polished out the rock walls in some places.

The air was surprisingly smooth as I sat in amazement of being where I was and seeing things I had not imagined as we maneuvered through canyons and gorges moving deeper into the mountain range surrounding Denali. Then the canyon opened up and about a thousand feet below and to our right was Ruth Glacier. The pilot eased the power back and the bottom fell out and as we dropped. The pilot aligned our approach and judged the degree of the glacial slope that was to be our runway, to a straight in and then we were down. The engine was shut down and in the unusually calm winds I sat there in the quiet of the mountains at the base of one of the most majestic places on earth my first thought was : now how the hell do we get out of here?

We got out and played in the snow a while and considered climbing up to Don Sherman’s shack that was a few hundred yards out and up but decided against it. The weather was calm but up there you never knew what the next hour might bring so we looked and absorbed all that we could then loaded up and reversed track back down the hill.

This event happened almost twenty years ago and during those years this flight out of Talkeetna  has become fairly routine with more pilots becoming aquainted with the route and weather clues.. So if you are ever in Alaska I recommend taking the time to go do it.

Posted by: paywindow7 | August 13, 2015

It’s Near

It’s near….. It’s very near. There was no sound or sighting only a sudden perception of the energy that surrounds it. This is not our first encounter, we have been at this mutual time and place in the cosmos many times over the years and it has always turned away at the last minute. It’s much nearer this time but it won’t close yet. Not yet. It knows that I know it’s here and can still kick it’s ass so it will just continue to stalk, like the cougar. Waiting and watching. Time weighs heavy and the evaluation of seasons past brings no resolution, only the questions. Why did I do that? Why didn’t I do that? And yet the yen to that yang is how did I do that? How could I have accomplished all that? Did I miss something or leave something unfinished?

My prayer to God is constant and continuous as I follow his lead to my only comfort. It’s obvious why it’s here but why the feeling of something undone.

Posted by: paywindow7 | October 30, 2014

River Run

A fast running river is the Deshutes. Mountain high snowmelt draining the Cascades easterly then north past Bend Oregon then more north for about a hundred river miles to the spectacular confluence with the mighty Columbia River. There it hangs a hard left west past The Dalles for the final dash to the Pacific. Running that stretch of churning tumultuous mix of rocks and water sometimes makes NASCAR appear tame. Typical water temperature is about 40 degrees Fahrenheit which is near 50 degrees colder than a human’s core body temperature and the instantaneous immersion in it created a shock that was stunning and my first reaction was to gasp and suck in air. Not a good idea since I was underwater and plastered to the underside floor of a faded yellow raft, held there, ironically, by my life vest. My face was pressed against the underside of the boat looking up through the thin, translucent rubber floor at faint shadows cast by the afternoon sun of the other three kamikaze paddlers that were still in the dry. They were jumping from one side of the mini-Titanic to the other looking over the side to see if and where the river was going to spit me out. I could faintly hear them calling my name as they tried to figure out where I was.

We had been rafting for the past week stopping occasionally to fish, rock climb and rappelle the mountains and shadowed canyons along and near the river’s course. The flat water drift was smooth and quietly tranquil between runs of turbulence, a time to just sit quiet to see and feel the beauty that is that place. A sharp focus of colors, depth and textures that a camera can never capture as the banks of the river flowed past.

We had just come through a class four rapid that had smoothed out below the falls and as we came around a bend we could see a plume of standing water. The white rooster tail stood about five feet tall in the middle of the river and there was plenty of room on either side to go around it. We all exchanged nods in agreement that instead of going around it, as rational thinking would dictate, we were going to go through the thing. I can’t say for sure but there may have been alcohol involved.

So we all dug in with our paddles to try and gain some speed to carry us through but it was wasted effort, the current already had us. Each of us rode and paddled sitting astride a corner of the wide inflated gunnels that made the raft, a raft. My perch was the right front corner, Pak was behind me at the right rear, Jude was across from him with Murphy to my left. As we plowed through the white standing wave our momentum also carried us over the rock that had created the thing and all at once I was looking over the bow and down into a deep hole in the water. We plunged into it and as we bottomed out the force of the drop caused the raft to bend in the middle and the paddle Pac had been using whacked me in the back of the head. We were held in that position for about two seconds then the river current took over again and spit us up and out of the hole and as the raft flipped back into its designed shape I went airborne. When I dropped back into the water the raft bulled me under and I was plastered flat against the underside transformed into the curious position of raft barnacle.

I tried to get a hand hold onto something at the edge of the rubberized disaster to pull myself out from under but my fingers slipped and clawed with no handhold to be found. The alarms belled and the red flags fluttered in my brain to warn that the rock we had just run over, just possibly, might not be the only one in the river and the next one we hit, due at any second, was going to smear me all over the bottom of the boat like a pizza supreme.

Then a paradigm shift somewhere in the cosmos swept me down deeper in the water and to the side and it was about then that my life preserver, and I use that term loosely, came alive and I felt launched toward the surface my right hand reaching high for air.

How he knew where I was I don’t know, that cosmos thing maybe, but as soon as my hand came out of the water, Pac grabbed it and we both pulled at the same time and I flew up and out of the cold over the gunnel and dropped into the bilges. I lay there for a few seconds, looking up at the curious movement of the trees on both banks moving in slow circles against the sky and I knew the boat was turning corresponding circles in the river, drifting out of control. Then we all heard it, a faint sound like a gust of wind in distant trees as the river flexed it’s muscles. Then the panic of reason jolted each of us and we all scrambled to our assigned seats and assumed the position as we approached another power run of river.

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