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 50 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.

Posted by: paywindow7 | October 24, 2014

Gym Rats

I’m a gym rat and have been, on and off, most of my adult life. Years ago I went at it because I actually enjoyed it, today I go because I use the workout routine as a benchmark of personal independence and mobility. Many people I know are home bound and all of my cajoling for them to get off their ass and do something falls on deaf ears. When I go has evolved into a pattern of three and sometimes four days out of a calendar week and I try to be there when very few other people are around. What I’ve noticed is that of those people that are there at that time most are pretty close to my age and a couple that may be a notch older.

I wonder sometime what inner demons they combat during their sessions and what wars are being waged inside their heads. You can tell by listening as one of us get to the last reps of a set and that battle ramps up large accompanied by the occasional roar and growl. We don’t communicate much and there is very little joviality around the floor, as there was in those days long gone, but when the struggle ends and that set is finished an occasional nod in their direction is in recognition of their guts and inner strength.

The cosmetics of exercise are of no interest to “my” group. We’re way past caring about appearance but one thing I’ve noticed is that muscle tissue can be developed and maintained at any age. One guy there is crowding 80 years old and benches 265 and is featured in local weight lifting shows. He says he’s on his way to a goal of 285. Know what? I’m betting he makes it.



Posted by: paywindow7 | October 1, 2014


It’s common knowledge that the condition of the southern border of the United States is extremely dangerous and has been for decades. The illegal movements of millions of people from Mexico across that line into the United States has gone largely unchecked especially during the past few years.

When looking at this you have to wonder: Where is the Mexican government in this? What is Mexico doing to control this flood of people? It’s obvious that nothing is being done and it’s also obvious why Mexico wants to get rid of those people. That government wants them out of Mexico so they do not have to fund infrastructure for them , healthcare for them, schooling for them, jobs for them. Plus those poor people work and get paid here and send million of dollars back to relatives in Mexico who then spend those dollars in the Mexican economy. It’s like Mexico is getting a loan from the United States with no interest and no payback. Yes, it’s much cheaper for the Mexican government to facilitate their own people in crossing the border and let the people of the United States support them.

Why do we never hear our own political “leaders” or the media publicly calling out the Mexican government to provide for their own so they do not need or want to risk their lives and their children’s lives to make that dangerous trip north?

Could it be that our political leaders and some corporations may be making money off those people? Another obvious Yes. Some U.S. corporations have exploited that source of cheap labor and should be held accountable. But don’t hold your breath, the loophole lawyers have already manipulated the judicial system so that can never happen.

So what’s the answer? Could it be that if more people start asking: “Where is Mexico”? or some variation of that, that over time maybe we might be heard? I’ve sent this to my elected officials and local news outlets with almost no response.

Worth trying though, give it a shot and see what happens.

Posted by: paywindow7 | September 11, 2014

Bucket List

Bucket List

We’ve all heard the term “Bucket List”. “I’m putting that on my bucket list” we say.
Then everyone within earshot knows that whatever is being discussed is something the bucket lister really wants to do. My bucket list is to revisit some adventures from the past to see how the years have changed the landscapes in my memory.

I’m a mountain freak, don’t care much for the beach or seashore even though there is beauty there also. No I like the mountains, and not just rolling hills that are called mountains sometime, but actual mountains with snowy peaks that rise above timberline pushing into the clouds. Some create their own weather while standing aloof above the gritty writhings down at sea level.

There is something about being way high where the air is rare that compels you to be more heads up and watch what you are doing and brings the dangers of a careless act into tighter focus. The same can be said about life anywhere but I feel it more high up and am more aware.

You might think that they can’t have changed much in just a few years, they are mountains after all. But yes they can change and do change, a lot in some cases. Grown trees now tower above remembered saplings. Rockslides take out roads and trails. Snow avalanches sweep whole forests away.

Sheep Mountain will be first. A mountain just south of the gaudy whiz bang that has sadly befallen Aspen Colorado. Rising as a sentinel over the remote Crystal River Valley with its historic ghost town and the Dead Horse Mill. Lots of mining history there. Silver mostly and other rare earths and a quarry mountain of white marble that supplied stone, back in the day, for many of the monuments that stand today in Washington DC.

The next “go to” is the trail leading into the Wemanuche Wilderness that heads at 30 Mile Camp west of Creede Co. It’s near where the Rio Grande River forms up just below the Continental divide and begins its powerful, swirling 2000 mile dash to the Gulf of Mexico. A place where rocks overlook the trail in some places to provide shelter when 3 day blizzards make it impossible to hike. Strange nights with knife in hand and sleeping bags pressed hard against the base of cliffs when lights come and go above the low hanging clouds and seem in search for someone or something. Was it something I said?

From there we go to the Big Bend area of Texas and head for “The Basin” of the Chisos Mountains at the eastern reach of the great Chihuahua desert sweeping up out of Mexico. Nope, can’t forget those Chisos. No snowy peaks there, just the spirituality of the place that is unforgettable and undeniable. Apaches ruled here for hundreds of years and a few can be still be seen if you are real quiet in the early evening. Last one I saw was over on the east side run of the Basin where Pine Canyon opens out onto the desert. He was minding his own business, just looking back up the canyon towards the pour off. He turned to me briefly but I could not see his eyes and then a slight breeze and he disappeared.

Next is not a mountain trek but a river run through mountains down the Deshutes in Oregon. Beautiful country and a river that is a match for any other with rare stretches of flat water flowing into almost constant Class 3s, 4s and 5s and at least one 6. The confluence at the Columbia River will take your breath away.

Will I ever make it back? Doubt it, but hey, they are all in my head so my dreams, sometimes, are spectacular.

Posted by: paywindow7 | September 6, 2014


As the first step on the end of my journey I suggest that you check out It showcases indie music from around the world. Some of my early on favorite artists is singer songwriter Reagan James, then guitarist David Tribble and a group from Canada called The Written Years. Many, many artists and groups of many genre.
Hope you enjoy!

Posted by: paywindow7 | September 2, 2014

Bad Words

During the past few years there are four words in the English language I’ve learned to abhor. The first of that four is the word “democrat”, the second is “republican”, the third word in my new dirty word dictionary is”liberal”, and the last of the “Infamous Four”(so far) is the word”conservative”.
I’m an American, I do not have to be either of those and yet on certain occasions I must be all four. We are all human so there will always be differences of opinion when we are at the table to right a wrong or advance an idea, and as Americans we are all obliged to come to that table in the spirit of negotiation and compromise. Naïve you say, I don’t think so. We have solid proof of what chaos occurs when people within an organization are lumped into categories and labeled and that example is called the United States Congress.

Posted by: paywindow7 | July 4, 2014

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 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 droning of each engine seems to seek resonance with the other and the sound of their separate 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 | June 25, 2014

Earth’s Music

As noted more than once in this collection of stuff I call a blog, I think the Laws of Physics rock. Most everything we do involves some aspect of natural law and those forces still sing in a voice that has existed before there were ears to hear it.

Even With all of the glitter and glare of the technical toys and gadgetry our culture seems addicted to, we are all still pieces of God’s star stuff connected to the universe, our home planet and each other in a common bond and chorus. We hear, we feel it in earth sounds. Wind, rain, the roar of fast flowing rivers and surging tides. The rumble of earthmoving quakes that created the mountains and pushed the peaks skyward still echo within planet Earth.

The paraphrasing above is part of a quote from “Blue Shoe” written by Anne Lamott. I found that quote on a site I recommend called “The Journey Continues” by musical artist Laura Bruno Lilly. Her post is called “The Dance of the Didgeridoo” so do yourself a favor and go check this one out. Laura has included links to didgeridoo music that captures the song of planet Earth.

The sound of the didgeridoo has always fascinated me and I never understood why until I read the words written by Anne Lamott. There is something primal in the sound of that hand made echo chamber that is the didgeridoo. That sound, that is like no other, is gut felt to me as it feels and transmits the flow of energy that is…us.

I felt a connection to the ancients during solo treks into wilderness areas many years ago and again later when flying airplanes. Why would I feel that connection when flying? Especially since I’m the one who wrote “Flying, An Unnatural Act”, because the forces keeping that chunk of iron and it’s driver airborne are physics 101. Naturally.

Posted by: paywindow7 | April 26, 2014

the Sky Shadow

Sometimes the familiar becomes the strange and what we think is going to be a simple, routine thing morphs into a lifelong memory.

I was flying with no particular destination in mind. My intention that day was to just go up, bore some holes and build time in the logbook. I’m addicted to being airborne and I enjoy the manifestation of the laws of physics that occur during flight because it is absolutely Physics 101. Flying is common nowadays and passengers inside of those airborne aluminum tubes called airliners are totally pre-occupied with all their electronic games and mindless gadgetry and are ignorant of the breathtaking phenomena that occurs right outside their windows. I’ve always enjoyed a layman’s understanding of physics and Newton’s Four Laws are alive and well in the airborne airframe. Also Mr. Bernoulli’s principle, that he discovered over 300 years ago, still does it’s dance along every airfoil on every aircraft on every flight. Thrust from the engines move the beast forward and at specific speeds the shape of the wings combine with that airflow to create work in the form of lift. Pressure variants caused by the flight controls on other surfaces turn and maneuver it through the air. Most people don’t care, I do.

It was early spring and the pre-flight check of the weather indicated that the days temperature and barometric pressure combination was to be as close to a “standard day” as we ever experience around here. Also included in that weather brief was the aviation acronym: “CAVU”, which means Ceiling and Visibility Unlimited so I could expect a clear mild day without a cloud in the sky.

I lifted off a little before 11:00am and as the end of the runway fell away I rolled into a climbing turn to starboard and departed the airport traffic pattern. A couple of minutes later I leveled out at 2500 feet I and was tracking west with the morning sun high and slightly behind me. After about 15 minutes I could see a small lake dead ahead in the distance. I also noticed that the horizon directly ahead looked a little different than the horizon visible to the left and right of my flight path. Continuing on it soon became apparent that the area directly ahead at a distance of about 10 miles was getting darker the closer I got to it. It was like sitting inside of a room and looking out through a screen door. The top of the shadow was a straight line at the same altitude I was flying and appeared to be about a mile wide with squared corners at the top with straight sides that reached far below.

I continued to close on the shadow and it continued to darken until I could no longer see through it. At that point it extended 20 degrees to the left and right of my heading. Since I could no longer see through it, any other air traffic that might be on the other side was as dangerous a hazard to me as I was to them. I was not going to fly through whatever it was so I stood on a wing and did my impression of a flat 180 out of there. After a few miles I turned about 45 degrees to the left and looked over my shoulder at where the shadow had been and it was gone.

When I got back to the hanger I asked some of the other pilots, that were sitting around the coffee pot, if they had ever heard of anything like that and got a lot of blank looks. I’m Still getting them.

Over the years I’ve described the event to meteorologists and many commercial pilots with thousands of hours flying international routes and none of them had ever seen or heard of what I saw that day. I’ve thought a lot about it and finally come to the conclusion that water evaporating out of the lake had somehow formed a cell of high humidity above it and with the position of the sun above and behind me, that moisture was causing a refraction of the rays of the sun in such a way to cause the shadow to appear. Perhaps the polarized windshield in the aircraft was also having some effect on the image.

If anybody knows or thinks they know what I was seeing I would appreciate your comments here or my email is


Posted by: paywindow7 | August 25, 2013

about Bigfoot

The hollywood media machine has been in a marketing frenzy for the past few years creating shows about the “do he” or “do he don’t” existence of a humanoid critter that has been assigned the title of “Bigfoot”. ‘Ol Big lives and loves in the backwoods, way past the end of the gravely roads and for all of the typical hollywood theatrics presented, these programs do have a semi-educational factor. For example I did not know before that the world of Bigfoot, like their cousins in the supernatural show department, exists in shades of “FLIR” green and that ghosts only work second shift.

Most of us have had some occurrence during our lives that left us scratching our heads and asking ourselves: “what was that”? But now we have many venues to compare our experiences with those of other head scratchers.

I’ve had my own encounters with things that go bump and I’ve reached the conclusion that the supernatural world is, in fact, just plain natural. A broad scope of phenomena that we just don’t understand yet. I think many of the experiences portrayed occur everywhere all the time even in our daily lives but they are more easily perceived in remote places because out there our senses are more expanded and receptive without the distractions of drive time traffic.

My one occurrence, that might possibly fit into the Bigfoot encounter box, is there simply because I don’t know what else to call it or where else to put it. Not a sighting, only a sound that roiled the midnight air.

A friend and I were night hunting coyotes up on the grasslands near Black Creek Lake north of Decatur when we heard it. The afternoon before had been pummeled with the comings and goings of thunder storms that had continued throughout the evening. As midnight approached lightning flickered in a strange maniacal dance within low hanging clouds as thunder muttered in the distance while the ragged, gusting wind hissed and moaned around us. We left the mud covered jeep at the cattle guard and walked quietly along the few hundred yards of dirt road that leads down to the lake. About halfway we stopped and stood in silence, immersed in the night and facing away from the rising wind and into a tree line of black on black forest and thick brush about thirty yards in front of us.

I would do the calling and my friend Betz would handle the spot light. We had stopped using a gun many years before. We had no interest in killing them, watching them watch us was much more interesting. Also I have always been interested in observing the movements and rhythms of nature and the feeling of becoming at one with natural activities especially at night.

So there we stand in this turbulent black night and I inhale deep and cut loose with the predator call. Now for those not familiar with night hunting, a predator call is a hand-held device that uses a reed to generate sounds similar to those in musical wind instruments like the clarinet, saxophone etc. The call looks like what is seen on the Duck Dynasty reality show with the main difference between duck calls and predator calls is that the reeds being made by the Robertson boys are tuned to simulate the sounds of ducks. The predator call reed is tuned to replicate the sound of a rabbit in distress so when it is blown the sound is like a dinner bell to any small game predator like a fox or coyote, bobcat, hawk or owl that happens to be in the neighborhood. It makes a horrible screeching sound that can be heard from a great distance and will attract any predator within hearing distance that is on the prowl for a midnight snack. That screech still hung in the air when a sound like I’d never heard before erupted from the shadowed tree line in front of us and filled the air. It slammed into each of us like an explosive shock wave and we were actually forced to take a step backward.

Loud and fierce with the shadows even darker between the pulses of lightning that danced above our heads like minions from hell. Whatever it was it had to be very big. Then within seconds, it roared again and still a third time. I thought at first it was a cougar, a very pissed cougar, and my next thought was that my trusty old 12 gauge double ugly was sitting safe and serene back at the jeep while I was standing in the middle of nowhere in the dark, pretending to be an item on the bottom of the primal food chain. I abandoned the cougar theory almost immediately because it didn’t really sound like any cougar I had ever heard before and if it had been a cougar that was that close and that big it would have already been on top of us.

Whatever it was, the unearthly howl made my skin crawl and seemed to become a presence that encircled all around us. As I turned towards Betz all I saw was the black on black shape of his back as he turned and started to double time back to the jeep and I was left standing by myself in the dark, for about a heartbeat.

I didn’t know ol’ Betz could run that fast and I’m not sure where we were on the road back to the jeep when I passed him but I had the engine cranked up and running before he even opened his door. I looked at him as he looked at me and as if on cue we both said at the same time “what the hell was that”?

That hunt was over. Of course we blamed it on the approaching storm. Whatever had made the sound was big, but if it wasn’t a cougar, what was it? The years passed and the incident remained in its own corner of curious memories in my head that was only discussed between Betz and me when we were by ourselves and under the chaperone of alcohol. Fast forward many, many years to present day and I’m watching some documentary about the Bigfoot phenomena that included an audio of what was supposed to be a Bigfoot vocalization and bingo there it was again. I don’t know what made the sound on the audio but it was almost exactly what we had heard that night long ago.

Do I believe in a Bigfoot creature? The quick and easy answer is no, however I’ve seen too much and heard too much in remote wilderness areas for me to completely rule out the possibility……of anything. I’m reminded of the answer the late Carl Sagan gave when asked if he believed in other beings, similar to ourselves, existing throughout the galaxies. He said (paraphrasing now) that “I have never seen physical proof that other life forms exist anywhere in the universe, but if that proof of their existence is discovered in the future, I would not be surprised”.

We hunted up there for many years after that night and never heard it again.

Posted by: paywindow7 | July 27, 2013




It’s early on a clear, crisp winter morning and as the rising sun clears the horizon, its brilliance is complete with no clouds or haze to dilute the cobalt blue sky and no wind to force the cold down coat collars. The stillness and quiet seems to hold everything in its place as in a photograph. It’s the morning of a beautiful day that comes with a vague feeling of…reverence. 


There is no one here but me. My truck sits in a parking area next to the flight line with the engine still hot from the high speed, pre-dawn run up the interstate that brought us here. It’s making those small clicking sounds common to cooling engines and although I’m a hundred feet away I can hear it. It’s that still and that quiet.                                                                                                                         

I’m standing on the flight line of a small regional airport that is a privately owned facility and an aviation landmark for over half a century. Frequently used by general aviation traffic the 3400 foot long, black, asphalt runway with its recently painted, white centerline runs north and south. A hill capped with a tangle of mesquite trees is an annoyance near the north end while tall, old growth oaks stand sentinel at the south. I’m in front of a row of airplanes of various size, shape and color. Some are sleek and sexy, some are plain, simple and basic but they all do variations of the same thing, they all go fast and high.


I have the feeling that my flight instructor wants me to solo soon even though the flight last week was mediocre at best. Hard landings accompanied by small errors and mistakes that had not been a problem before add to my frustration and generates some tension even though I’m confident that I can fly the airplane.


Cars begin arriving in quick succession now and one of them brings my flight instructor. As we begin the preflight ritual she doesn’t mention last week’s flight but as we buckle up to go she says she wants to stay in the pattern and shoot some “touch ‘n go’s” (a term that means the pilot lands the aircraft but as soon as it’s rolling and stable on the ground he quickly raises the flaps, adds full power and takes off again without coming to a complete stop). We fire it up then call for a radio check on the local air traffic communication frequency and get no response. I add some power and we ease away from the parking site tie downs and onto the taxiway heading for the run-up area pad near the departure end of the runway. The preflight run-up goes smoothly and when completed I add power to get us moving toward the runway.  I stop at the “hold short” lines that separate the taxiway from the end of the runway and help regulate and position the aircraft getting ready for takeoff. My obligatory radio call to announce our intentions to any other aircraft that may be in the area gets no response, no radio traffic at all but since this is an airport with no control tower it’s not that unusual.  We visually sweep the landing pattern around the airport for any traffic that may be there but not monitoring their radio. Nothing in sight, but I’m aware again of that small, vague feeling of unease that has been crowding me all morning.


My right hand eases the throttle forward to add some power and move us onto the runway as the left foot adds a little pressure to the left main gear brake and the nose swings to the left and brings the white centerline of the black asphalt runway into the center of the windshield. One quick glance down the entire length of it confirms it to be clear of obstructions but the trees at the far end over a half mile away always seem to loom larger when preparing for takeoff in that direction.  Full throttle now and the surge of power to the prop increases the ‘G’ load to push the driver and observer back into the seats as the aircraft accelerates. The speed builds exponentially and the sounds of the propeller combined with the engine exhaust rises to that familiar high pitched buzzing roar. After a brief glance at the engine instruments and the air speed indicator I give the “Air speed’s alive” and “Engines green” call to my instructor in the right seat.                 


At about 55 knots I can feel that slight shudder through the yoke that indicates the wind over the wings has attached and has now become a lifting force and tells me that we’re ready to fly. An increase in back pressure on the yoke raises the nose wheel off the runway and a couple of seconds later we are airborne and I suppress the now familiar exhilaration that always wants to come out as maniacal laughter.


We climb out in the still smooth morning air as the runway markings fall away beneath us, then a climbing left turn onto the crosswind leg of the airport traffic pattern and we start setting up for some touch and goes. It’s still early with no other aircraft in the area and the radio remains silent as we complete the circuit of the landing pattern. The descending turn from base leg to final and we are at altitude and aligned, again, with that runway centerline. The airspeed is good and the VASI lights setting to the left of the runway indicate that we are on glide path. My eyes are on the white painted runway numbers near end of the asphalt strip with occasional side sweeps for traffic then at airspeed, altitude and the VASI as we glide in. I start to get a little fast and add a little back pressure on the yoke that raises the nose slightly to slow us down. My right hand is nailed to the throttle as my fingers slowly bleed power off to allow for descent. Somewhere outside that orb of concentration there is a feeling that “this is why we do it”. This feeling of clarity, communion and alignment with the natural laws of physics is never more apparent and profound for me as when on final approach. It’s my church pew but as that feeling tries to push to the front of my consciousness I force it away to focus on what I’m doing.         


The touchdown is a squeaker and the best in a month. We do two more circuits around the traffic pattern and each touchdown is good but as I begin to go to full power for another “go” my instructor says no and to take her back to the office and I know that today is the day.


We taxi back and when we get to the hanger she pops the right door open to the rushing sound of the engine and propeller, gives me some last minute encouragement and instructions about what she wants to happen.  Then she swats me on the shoulder, steps out and the door slams shut. When she is clear of the prop wash and walking toward the office, I add power again and head down the taxiway toward the end of the runway a half mile away. The strange thing is that I don’t feel as nervous as I thought I would. Focused, yes and alert but not particularly nervous.  


I turn the radio volume up and visually scan the downwind and base legs of the traffic pattern while rolling. Then I’m there. The taxiway turns a 90 degree left and there are the “hold short” lines and the runway threshold markings of 17. When I get stopped I look right and visually check out the final approach leg. It’s clear and with no need for run up now, I call CTAF and announce my intention to the previously vacant sky but to my surprise I get a couple of acknowledgements. I release the brakes, add some power to cross the “hold shorts” then a left turn and the engine cowling swings to the left in a curious sort of slow motion before stopping and I’m looking down the full length of the centerline again. For a flash I’m tempted to stop and think about what I’m doing but I push that thought aside. I don’t need to think about it, I know what I’m doing, and it seems that a part of my soul has spent my whole life coming to this moment.  The time for heavy thinking is past, now it’s time to do the deed.


So I quickly scan the instrument panel and mentally note indicated fuel levels, engine gauges, flaps settings, mixture and confirm full travel of rudder, aileron and elevator. The throttle starts to move and short seconds later the RPM gauge spikes up again and the speed increases rapidly and in seconds I again feel that slight flutter in the controls and I sense the airplane saying “OK sport we’re ready… do it”. Then we’re in the middle of the best take off I’ve ever made and I’m flying an airplane by myself.


As I’m turning and climbing into the crosswind leg the radio seems to come alive with the chatter of other traffic and as I look over my left shoulder down at the airport my heart sinks a little. Airplanes seem to be coming out of the ground and heading for the business end of runway 17. Oh crap, all of the old bastards that live at the airport have decided to “put ‘em in the blue” this morning right in the middle of my first solo. These guys are all old experienced pilots who fly like skateboard delinquents in an abandoned swimming pool. Nothing illegal, just fast and edgy and here I go, slow and mostly new.  I was feeling pretty good a few seconds ago when it was just me up there boring holes in the sky but with other airplanes coming up to join me the process just got a lot more complicated and right then I didn’t need more complications.  I actually thought for a minute to call everyone down there and tell them that I was on my solo flight and ask them to stay put for a few minutes. But then I thought “No, what the hell, bring ‘em up. If we die, we all die big”. By the time I turned final for my first solo touch-down I was a quarter mile from the end of the runway and I could see a guy beginning his take off role but I held my glide and keyed the mike to announce where I was and that I was on short final to keep the next guy in place behind the hold short lines. That guy held his position until I came past and as I was on my flare he called that he was pulling onto the runway. That panicked me a little but then I heard the tires squeak and saw that my alignment and attitude were good so I immediately flipped up the flap switch, went balls to the wall with the throttle, pushed the carb heat off and I was flying again. It all happened so fast that I was a little surprised to see the ground fall away.


Some guy came into the pattern behind me on my fourth circuit and radioed to say that he was having engine problems and would I extend my downwind leg so he could turn a short base and land before me. So I did and he did and when I touched down a few minutes later he was on the taxiway with his propeller stopped. The last pattern was a non event except for the fact that as I turned crosswind on the last lap my radio went dead. Yep dead silent, but by that time I was only about a minute from my last touchdown and all the other flying skateboarders had left the area so I continued on like I knew what I was doing and set it down and made a very careful taxi back to the hanger.


When I pulled up to the flight line there was Dee screaming and jumping up and down kind of weepy like and giving me a hug. I was one of her first students so I was glad that I hadn’t bent the airplane.

Like everyone tells you “you’ll never forget it” and I never will.


Later, after the dust had settled and pictures taken, I was leaving the airport and turned on the radio and heard that the space shuttle Columbia had broken up on re-entry and that, tragically, all hands had been lost. I’ve thought about that a lot over the years and put together the time line of what I was doing that morning and compared that with the moment to moment of the shuttle re-entry and disaster and discovered that at the same time I was experiencing my feelings of unease and reverence was before and during the shuttle disintegration somewhere over America. Many words, phrases and conjecture lend themselves to explaining something like that but none of them work here and there’s no reason that they should. There is no explanation…at this time.     

Posted by: paywindow7 | July 26, 2013

High Flight


Oh, I’ve slipped the surly bonds of earth and danced the skies on laughter silvered wings;

Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth of sun split clouds…and done a hundred things you have not dreamed of…

Wheeled and soared and swung high in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there, I’ve chased the shouting wind along and flung my eager craft through footless halls of air.

Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue I’ve topped the windswept heights with easy grace where never lark or even eagle flew.

And while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod the high un-trespassed sanctity of space, put out my hand and touched the face of God. 


By John Gillespie Magee Jr.

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