Monday, July 13, 2009

Air and Water. Water and Air.

Air and water. Water and Air. The two elements of this world that I love the most. Part of my childhood was spent on the waters of a lake in Montana where we stayed at a little cabin some summers, years before Californians discovered it and developers took over the place, building vast condos that blocked out the sun.

My brothers and I would get up while it was still dark, and march down to the waters edge, hoping to get there to see the dawn explode over the water. During the day we'd float upon it in inner tubes, flotillas of youth, between fishing and swimming. I could spend hours there, just watching the way the water shaped itself around the rocks and me, the gentle waves moving against the shore, like breathing. In the bright cold water, there would be bass and crappie and all wonders of strange life.

We'd wade along the edges, gingerly looking, while not harming anything that was there, hoping to find a prehistoric shell to take home, knowing that at some time, this whole land had been ocean. We occasionally found bits and pieces of things, but nothing ever matched the one perfect shell we got on that trip to the Oregon coast to meet out cousins one summer. Many of you have seen a sand dollar. They're commonly sold in souvenir stores. But what you see is only the remaining skeleton of a living sea creature. When living, the sand dollar is covered with fine hair like cilia that cover tiny spines, soft, and almost purple in color. But the remaining shell is beautiful, fragile, white. The essential essence of what this creature was.

Until I was about 10 I wanted to be a Biologist, preferably a marine biologist (that or a spy, biologists didn't get to have cool guns and shoe phones). Then one morning, when I was in my early teens, as I ran and launched myself off of a dock, airborne for only a moment before splashing into the ice cold water, I heard a sound. It was a small plane flying up over the high altitude lake, causing me to look up in wonder, not ever having seen one in this remote area. Wondering who the pilot was and what that must be like. My world in that moment, was more than one with the water, but was the world of air and sky, and though I felt as if I was living in a alien world in either, among creatures that were so different from me, somehow I knew I would belong there.

After that, on summer nights when we'd build a fire and sit and listen to the lapping of the waves, dreams of my airborne future filled my head. The sound of the water, growing and swelling in rhythm to my heart beat, an accompaniment to the laughing and roasted marshmallows, the joys of a night on the water, under open stars. My heart had shifted, I would likely major in the sciences I loved, yet the affirmation and promise of the rushing waters that carried those aerial dreams needed to be a part of me.

It wasn't too many years before I was taking lessons after school and soon was practicing "turns about a point", ground reference maneuvers, low over collections of small lakes. It was a perfect time, for those hours I was free. I've always been that way, devoted to family, but chafing at a leash, electronic or otherwise that follows me when I am earthbound, making me long for the sky.

Tonight I needed to get back up there watching the clouds go past, thinking back to my first flight over 20 years ago, to the first person I ever kissed, to the smell of Lycoming exhaust mixed with the scent of fresh cornfield, to the distant memory of what it feels to be free. Patiently sitting, watching, remembering everything past, hoping for everything good of the future, in a bone deep calm that only a pilot or people who make long road trips probably understand, until it's finally time to descend. To descend through layer on layer of cloud, thinking back, layer and layer of memory. Memories in an airplane, the first, the last, in the heart of the nation or over still mountain lakes, winter to summer, hours to minutes. From that first flight to this one, the distance seems endless.

Water and Air. Air and Water. I make that final descent for the airport, the heat of legions of cornstalk pressing in around me, the sun so bright I glint into the glare, trying to catch a glimpse to the runway, rousing myself from the almost stupor that descends from an hour aloft. It's like being a child, being coaxed from the back of a car after a long drive to make a quick stop at a gas station when all you want to do is crawl back in the cool seat, book in lap, moving 70 miles an hour towards the place you most want to be. In my mind I was already on the way there, passing all the small towns in which I would never live and people I'd never get a chance to talk to, rushing headlong towards the place where the rest of my life was awaiting me. Somewhere just up ahead in the blue.

The blue of the sky glances off the blue of the reservoir, I soar past small islands of clouds as the sky and the water and the whole universe appear as an infinite expanse of deep blue calm.
The being and cadence of rushing water is part of who I am, as is the rush of wind past the cockpit, directing the currents of my future, setting the pace of my desire, powering the shape of my dreams. The undercurrents of air and sky over time has shaped who I am, eroding away all that is non essential, til all that is left is pure white thought, a pristine light shell that is my soul.

Air and Water.
Water and Air. I descend into the deepening blue, dreading the anchor of earth again.


  1. Thanks for sharing. Interesting to hear of the moment that sparked your passion for flying.

  2. Another beautiful essay , Brigid.

    Speaking of marine biologists, you might want to look up the 'Doc' Ford novels of Randy Wayne White. Ford's a true successor to Travis Magee ... and he's a marine biologist by day, a spy (sort of) by night. Good books especially if you like those set in Florida.

    And you could read in the car. None of my sisters could ... and it's a skill greatly to be admired. I usually had to ride in the back seat of that '53 Buick Roadmaster ... and a book made the miles disappear. (I rode in the front at night so I could keep my Dad awake.)

    Thanks for this piece of writing, Brigid ... and, as usual, my own memories it brought on.


  3. I envy you the freedom of the air - and the lack of tether. The most free I've been in the last decade was the week it took for us to drive from St. Louis to Anchorage ... glorious - out of touch & unreachable.

    If that's how you feel in the air, then even better. Enjoy, and thanks for taking us along in prose.

  4. I've only been in a plane twice, once when I was five, which I remember nothing of, and then in my 30's when a farmer in Iowa took me for a quick flight over town in a Cessna. I've always wanted to fly a plane but for various reasons never did. You do stir up desires long forgotten and perhaps I will learn as of yet. You're writing is quite amazing and totally awesome! THANKS!

  5. Nice piece B. Touching.

  6. I flew a lot as a passenger as a kid overseas. We lived down the road from the airstrip and I spent a lot of time there.

    Planes going in and out included DC3s from World War II, Piper Cubs, Cessnas, Dorniers, and, later, Bristol Freighters. There was a disassembled byplane in one of the hangers and two Junker transports parked in the kunai grass on the far edge of the strip.

    For a while I wanted to take flying lessons but never started the process.

    Now, in the states, flying commercial is so much more trouble than it used to be I avoid planes at all cost. Kind of sad.

    Your piece reminded me of better times.

  7. Ahhh, that brought back memories. I remember seeing my first Piper Cub flying down the HV power line next to the Farm. He was checking something, not sure what, but flying low 'n slow. Once in a while, he'd throttle back and glide a bit. Then, a few moments later, you'd hear the engine again as he throttled up to gain altitude.

    I've not practiced turns around a point over a lake. Not too many of those in KS. I used silos or cell towers. Both were more plentiful.

  8. Hello Lass,

    Been a horrible month with the last two weeks, so grueling, and so full of let downs from colleagues, and a couple of friends from who I expected so much more. Taking a needed break, even though still at work, to partake of the refreshing well springs of your posts.

    Wonderful prose, which I have come to expect. I think if I got anything less, I would be so shocked, that I would fly to Indiana, and turn the State upside down, until I found you, to see what was wrong. At which point since you do not know me, as well as I know you, you would either shoot me, or have me jailed. What amazes me, and makes me feel a warmth toward you, is your willingness to share so much of yourself. A sharing so genuine, and artful that it makes me feel special. Although I am most likely not unique in that feeling, I still like to think so. Your posts that touch, on your personal touch stones, especially those that talk about flying, are the most insightful, and thought provoking. Thanks for stirring my own pleasant memories.

    Take care Lass,

  9. I'm sitting here surrounded by frustration, the bones of my airplane in my living room exposed and naked with only my clumsy hands to be the surgeon, knowing that the pieces that caused my last six month setback - don't work again. It's enough to make a woman mutter in her tea things like who needs airplanes anyhow, and pilots are crazy.

    Then I read your writing, and it reminds me that I am writing a love story in wood and steel, aluminum and doped fabric, rebuilding a dream even as I rebuild my body and soul.

    I need to go fly again, to get out where the mountains and the endless sky free me of the fog of petty stresses and miasma of daily grind. Thank you for reminding me of that joy that waits only a takeoff away.

  10. Of course in this post-modern era, anyone and everyone has cool guns and shoe phones...

    As usual you leave me speechless!

    Beautiful women have that effect on me!

    Especially when they are so much more than eye candy!


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