Thursday, October 28, 2010

Road Warrior Week Continues - Taking to the Sky

This one is dedicated to the "guy that buys the dog food" at Lagniappes.

When you take on the role of a flight instructor you think about two things. All the flight time you're going to build so you can get that airline job for the aviation majors, or tuition money for folks like me, and for a select few, the sheer satisfaction of giving another person their wings, the realization that what you can do can be passed on, like a runners torch. For most, the desire is a combination of both.

Earthbound, we all all many things, male, female, conservative, liberal, blue collar, white collar. Aloft we are all simply pilots; a small group of individuals who have discovered that vast space where perfect contentment is intertwined with the exhilaration of pitting your wits and your skill against an open sky; a face off with the elements of nature, a match with the heavens that heightens every sense you have.

Earthbound we have limitations as varied as our lives. As pilots, life is simpler as our will is freer; our lives, however different, are truer and more defined. No matter what we cherish in life, we cherish it more; home, friends, the smell of fresh tilled earth from a mile up, the heady gulp of pristine, crisp air that clears both our lungs and our heads. It's a joy worth sharing, and as a newly minted flight instructor I was ready and able.

But what they don't explain when you're putting in the hundreds of hours of study it takes to be a Certified Flight Instructor is this. In this wondrous exchange are the frequent days that if mother nature isn't trying, student will be actively trying to kill you. And smiling while doing it. Because the student hadn't yet learned that just because you weren't yelling at him didn't mean you hadn't just avoided bent metal by nano seconds. That would come after solo.

I put myself through college and grad school flight instructing. I wasn't an aviation major, interested in science and criminal justice, but it was a lot better way to make tuition than "would you like large fries with that". I remember some of the students vaguely. I remember some vividly, the imprint of their panic stricken Steve Urkel "Did I do THAT" expression burned into my brain. There was one fellow to whom I was demonstrating how to recover from a stall, the event where the angle between the chord line of the wing and the relative wind is such that airflow is disrupted and the wing stops flying. The nose drops, you level the wings and you add power. Piece of cake. Except in this case the student took my words "just gently lower the nose" to mean shoving the control yoke full forward with 180 pounds of push. I didn't know it would go that far forward. Forward, straight into the ground, coming up at 100 miles an hour.

For a moment, the woods below rushed up to greet us with a deathly slap, air rushing past with the speed of infallibility, mocking the effort of lift, the effort of life. But, for altitude and instincts born of hours of repetitive movements, that might have been our last flight. But it wasn't, and with a tustle of controls and the movement of the throttle we were climbing back up, with the power of an engine and the unrending breath of youth. Inhaling life from death, not realizing just how close it was until it was over. In that moment I was reminded that nature did not care if we were young and high up on the food chain. The sky, with it's solitude and freedoms, creates a perfect stage for exultation or loss and we are very small actors in the arena.

I have always been an avid outdoors woman and a hunter, bow and firearm. I felt as comfortable in the woods as I was in the sky. I loved getting up early, getting into the camo and sneaking through the woods like I was on some sort of covert mission. Climbing up a tall tree stand trying to hold a heavy 20 gage Belgium Browning semi-auto in one hand was interesting to say the least. I know the pilots I hunted with, more than once, took bets to see if I'd make it into a particularly tricky stand without yelling for help. It might have taken me 15 minutes but I got into my stand solo and the view was incredible.

I remember my last firearm hunt out West. It started snowing early and it was -6 degrees. I had on long johns and two pairs of coveralls and I still had to clench and unclench my muscles to generate warmth as the day wore on. Finally, my friends went back to the house, out on 500 acres in the far North. They'd teased me about being a wimpy girl, so I ate my peanut butter sandwich and stayed out in the blind until almost dark. I'd seen some does and some youngsters but I would only take a full grown buck, venison to get us through the long winter.

Right as the last of the days light leeched out of the sky, a big buck came, moving along the tree line in the distance. I sucked in a breath and fired, one shot, at near dark, as he ran for the thick of the forest. As the shot cracked into the frigid air, the buck leaped into the woods, as I stared, still, amazed at how a living thing like that will keep going, and how far, when it is already dead from that single shot through the heart. But the snow was heavy and darkness was on me and by the time I got down, out of the blind, tracking him was difficult.

When I finally got to where he lay, the white tail a small sign in the deepening pool of blackness, I stood, hairs rising up along my forearms, my breath hot in my chest, despite the snow and the cold. I wasn't alone. Something instinctual kicked in and I stopped in my tracks. There, crouching over the remains of that magnificent 12 point buck was a dark shadow, merged onto my kill, hunched over the ribcage, dark on darkness, where I couldn't tell where one shadow began and another ended. Something uttered a low throat-ed growl at me; it wasn't some body's pet and it was certainly not some cuddly woodland creature from a PETA ad. The stink of something primordial was in the air, more than blood, less than my own fear and I knew that I was moving downward quickly on the food chain.

Shooting at it in near total darkness would only have pissed it off, so I slowly backed away and let whichever scavenger or predator had found my buck have it's due. I'd taken something that, in the realm of the wild, wasn't mine to take, and something more powerful was going to take it from me. I carefully made my long way back to the safety of the house, the fear seeping out of me like the deer's blood onto the snow.

We think, as humans, we have dominion over the wild and especially when we are young, we think we are immortal. But when we are in those places, be it the forest or the skies, we are on the edge, and living is accomplished on an edge that is neither a humanitarian or lenient. The slow, the infirm, the careless . . . perish. And there will be blood. I am reminded of that daily. With each scene, each violent stoppage of that which is life, I develop a deeper appreciation of just being here, breathing, living flesh and bone. For it was in that cold wood on that dark night as I stared into the glowing eyes of something toothed and fanged, that I realized that this seemingly sturdy body, that serves me subtlety and so well, is only so much meat, and my thoughts and life history would only be a night's sustenance to some creature of the woods. . . or to fate.

We've all had that experience in one form or another, in deep woods or clear sky. The one that scares the wadding out of you, bringing out instincts ingrained in your breath, making you reticent to get back anywhere near what caused the situation in the first place. "Getting back on the horse" as they call it. Sometimes it's a near accident, sometimes it's the real thing. Most humans experience it at least once. For pilots it's something no one escapes, ever. Show me a pilot who says they've never done anything a little risky and deeply regretted it, or did everything textbook perfect only to be doused with the cold waters of mechanical failure, and I'll show you someone who's flying is limited to desktop simulators.

Sometimes the event leaves physical scars. But for most, the scars are internal and you only touch them, gingerly, and with trepidation, in late night hours of retrospection. I've talked to many a pilot that's had a scare, or through the hand of fate, damaged their beloved craft, and the first thing they say is "I'm never going to fly again". A few don't. But only a few. The rest, like myself, look at the event not as a "near death" experience, but a measure of that which they have proven they can handle. The event may fade in time, but that which it brought to you can never be destroyed, it's cataloged back in a pilots memory to be retrieved in later years, when it can and will save you again.

I remember well one of the first students I had after getting my Certified Flight Instructors Certificate. He showed up for his $10 introductory flight lesson, and we spent about 15 minutes cruising around the foothills of the mountains while I demonstrated the joys he would experience if only he signed up for lessons. As we started our descent for the airport, and the power was reduced, there was a huge "BANG" from the engine,and after a few belabored rotations the prop came to a halt. The prospective student looked at me and said "is it SUPPOSED to do that??".

Uh. . . . . no.

I remember MY instructor teaching me, time and time again, what to do when a rare engine failure occurred and with that experience, I simply acted. I set it up in a glide for a small grass strip that was close by and broadcast a MAYDAY on the local Flight Service Station frequency. They came back with "what are your intentions?" to which I replied "We're going to crash, you moron." or something equally professional. But we made it in to the strip uneventfully with nary a scratch on the plane. I never saw the student again and I had to give him his $10 back so I had no dinner that night.

Was I scared? Absolutely, though I didn't show it. Did I get back in an airplane the next day. Yes. More for the desire to eat than any philosophical direction as to how I should proceed with my life. But, trust me, it would have been so easy to stay on the ground, tethered by all the emotions that a perceived failure can bring, the portent of your own vulnerability illuminated by the near accident. But I didn't then, nor in later years when Mother Nature or a cranky Squirrel Boeing tried to beat me up. You shouldn't.

You calm your nerves or fix your trusty steed and go back to the actuality of flight, not the dream of it. Of smooth polished wood and metal. Something you can touch and smell. A symphony of sound and curves and surfaces that displaces the air that then fills your soul. You move past your fear and enter back into that relationship with the one thing that lets you be a part of something greater than you. Yes, there's fear, and it's growling at you from someplace dark, but it's only for the moment. For like most true airmen you have that supreme confidence in your airborne destiny, like that of birds and their wings, that unruffled belief in your own abilities that launches you, hesitant but full winged from the safety of the nest out into the sky.

Where you belong.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Posts from the Road - Rules of the Stagecoach

This listing of rules for Stage Coach Passengers was found in a very old Durango, Colorado Newspaper.

1. If the stage team runs away or you are pursued by Indians, stay in the coach and take your chances. Don't jump out, for you will be either injured or scalped.

That's OK, he'll buff out.

2. In cold weather, abstain from liquor, for you are subject to freezing quicker if under the influence than if you were cold sober. But if you are drinking from a bottle, pass it around. It is the only polite thing to do.

3. Don't smoke a strong cigar or pipe on the state especially when women and children are present. If chewing tobacco, spit to the leeward side.

4. Don't swear, snore or lop over on neighbors when sleeping. Let others share the buffalo robes provided in cold weather.

Buffalo robes are not to be confused with the Buffalo Snuggie

5. Don't shoot firearms for pleasure while enroute, as it scares the horses.

6. Don't grease hair with bear grease as travel is very dusty.

7. Don't discuss politics or religion.

8. Don't point out sites where robberies have taken place.

9. And don't imagine you are going on a picnic, for stage travel is inconvenient.

You all travel safe now!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Thoughts Laid Out in Black and White

I carved our names upon a tree
simple words marked a plaintive plea
The text incised on darkened wood
with trembling hand as best I could
But in so writing tears would fall
for the bark's surface was far too small
Still my hand etched away in vain
with faith that it would be seen again
hope that these small woundings of a stem
might speak to someone who passed by them
I hope they see past the mark or stain
to small etched cuts of the heart that remains
Brigid 2010

Did you ever cut your initials into a tree? (and no, it's not a great idea tree-wise). Or etch the name of a secret crush back in school days, absently in a journal, not being able to think much beyond the words that made up the name of your beloved?

Short words are easy. It's the long strings of words that can break us, or make us. In the middle of a presentation today I had a blank moment and what came to me was "I lost my train of thought".

Where did that expression come from? Though we use it for everything from absentmindedness to excusing our disjointed ramblings by its loss, it was elaborated four hundred years ago by Thomas Hobbes in a somewhat different meaning:

By Consequence, or train of thoughts,
I understand that succession of one thought to another which is called,
to distinguish it from discourse in words,
mental discourse.
When a man thinketh on anything whatsoever,
his next thought after is not altogether so casual as it seems to be.
Not every thought to every thought succeeds indifferently.

Hobbes was quite the thinker, probably why Bill Watterson chose the name for his sardonic tiger in my favorite comic strip.

My personal lumbering boxcars of thought, speeding on through this railway station we call the Internet, is fueled by very early mornings, and a couple of cups of coffee, needed to get me moving as my days often start well before sun has risen.

Train of thought. The term just doesn't seem to fit our new age, when abundant discourse is sent forth in the click of a mouse, words and and ideas flirting between computer terminals in nanoseconds, with voluminous paragraphs abbreviated to simple text messages. In an age where entire freight cars of words are reduced to tiny particles of matter, the term "train of thought" seems to be a disappearing trail of smoke in our vocabulary. Sonnets and poetry reduced to . ;-) and "luv ya" in our rush to our next appointment. People spend hours each day texting and twittering without as much as a spoken word to someone they care about. If Hobbes were given a blackberry instead of a quill, would he have written Leviathan?

Log trains passed behind my house when I was a child. Passed down through the forested hills where we romped, grew up, fell in love and carved our names on trees. As they traveled down those hills towards the timber mills at night, their path would cut shadows across our neighborhood. I remember as a small child how the sound would intensify as my Dad would read to me at bedtime, as shadows would slide over the wall above my bed, over the model boats and planes and trains my brother and I played with. And with the shadow came one of the first sounds of my memory, the mournful wail of a train, competing with my Dad for sound, so he would speak louder and more clearly, forcefully driving each word outward, the phrases connected and intact and uninterrupted and in that moment I discovered my love for words. And for trains.

In daytime we'd ride our bikes along the tracks, looking for diesel smoke in cold air, throbbing engines, hoping for a quick glimpse. The yard at the timber mill had more than one track running into it, and as two trains would arrive, you'd hold your breath in fear of a collision, only to have one veer off and stop, while a long line of cars safely passed. I think of the missing man formation, in which a squadron of fighter planes performs a low pass, one separating and flying off to the heavens. A ballet of mighty machinery.

I'd memorize the names on the cars going by, forming the words in my mouth while smelling the fresh smell of wood going into the paper mill. So many cars, so many words. Each leaving a memory, branding my thoughts with its impression, burning into my head with the sunlight streaming through the slats. Carrying it's load of mighty trees fallen to make paper for which the words will one day affix themselves. Paper clean and bare with promise.

Behind my house, a new train, miles of unexplored tracks to walk, tracks crossing across the landscape of this new life, when viewed from the air, almost forming letters, writing of new adventures. A poem composed of ancient ties and abandoned depots, a sad lament to the forgotten forms of old trains, to lost thoughts and the art of speaking in deep clear sentences, now reduced to emoticons and abbreviated texts. How do you reduce your feelings to 3 or four letters, and quick clips of syllables that mean so little? Words sent through space, silently with no weight.

My Dad no longer reads to me at night, but he sends me letters, real letters, though his household has email and a cell phone. The letters are written in clear, flowing script that belies his 88 years and in which he talks with steady and unflinching repose, of watching all his friends pass on, of navigating life in a body that aged long before his mind. He writes of the family and of his days of laughter and prayer, words of humor, of inspiration, of compelling faith. Sheets of paper that for years have charted a course for me through adulthood. Sheets that lie carefully tended, fragrant and dry in a drawer, where I will have them years after he's gone, abiding strength still radiating from his descriptions of love and loss, the papers having a weight to them of his life. A weight that will keep me anchored.

How do you do that with a text message, how do you convey such feelings of family in a smiley? How do you explain what it feels to live, to breathe, to love, to fly, in a twitter message? For those thoughts make up boxcar after boxcar of the steady motion of thought, sturdy boxes of space and time, their spaces containing the heavy load of lust and longing, pride, fear and desire. A train barrelling forward in steady progressions as moving clouds fly overhead and shafts of sunlight peer through sliding cars, into their depth. As others transmit through satellites and space, I watch the landscape from the viewpoint of the train. Structures of iron lace, the suddenness of buildings, clouds of morning mist all crossing my line of sight, my muscles straining with the curves through corn shrouded fields, moving with the train, thundering through empty fields of past loss into meadows washed with light. I rush into the rain as the cars gain speed, waters cleansing the windows on which I look out on life. I hurl words into the darkness of an upcoming tunnel and wait for their echo back.

Train of thought rushing on. Life viewed as a passing landscape in which I live in the midst yet best write about it only as it has passed my window, a memory behind me trailing in the smoke of the engine. I don't have a blackberry. I don't MySpace, Twitter or Facebook. Only on rare occassion do I text. I blog. I blog for me, to release words that need to come out at the end of the day. The stories may be too long to catch the interest of the masses looking for quick, short entertainment, of which there is plenty among the white noise of the Internet. My communications outside of here as well are lengthy strings of words, heartfelt messages splayed out on paper, their sincerity driving their movement, under my pen, the words stringing out behind me. Sometimes I hit send, somethings they just stay, hesitant to go beyond the confines of my longing.

But the words will always will be my own, the track they follow a mystery until that next bend is rounded. Words composed of past journeys on ancient rails, washed clean by wind and rain, and tempered by time. A story written to the mournful sound of a train whistle echoing through abandoned dreams and ancient memories, waiting for the echo of my words.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Weekend Blog Meet - Part 1

The IND blog gang is meeting over two days due to everyone's schedule. (As always, thanks to the talented Roberta X for putting it all together). I was still feeling a bit pale and puny, after a bad stomach bug, so I just hit Saturday where it was going to be just close friends. We tried something different, the Claudaugh Irish Pub. Tam, Shooty Buddy, Roberta X, Og and his friend Mike, Midwest Chick and Mr. B., (in matching red shirts), Old Grouch, Joanna and myself were all there. The food was awesome, the beers. . well Irish.

I rolled in early, in the big black truck, "Bad to the Bone" cranked on the stereo only to apparently get mooned by Og. I'm still not sure if I actually saw it, as I was adjusting the volume. I remember a giant flash of bright white something and I hit the brakes while grabbing my radiation glasses. My reflexes and my tummy held steady. When the blog meet starts out this way it's only going to get more interesting.

Conversation was varied

Talk from gun show purchases.

"I got a . . . . . "

"And I got a . . ."

Midwest Chick . . . "I got a SIG".

Og (in a perfect, sad Charlie Brown Great Pumpkin monotone) "I got a Glock"

Then some talk about the trips there.

Midwest Chick, Mr. B., Og and Mark all carpooled down for the gun show.

I saw the Scooby Doo Mystery Machine broken down on my road on the way in.

Seriously, just sitting dead by the side of the road just a few miles south of where I live.

Ruh Ro.

See that long dark shape laying in the road underneath? Hey, sorry to break it to you meddling kids, but it appears your drive train is now a ghost.

The beers arrived out on the outdoor patio where the temps were nice and the wind picking up only to have a tactical menu take out a Guinness and drench Midwest Chick. We raised our glasses to our fallen beer, and she got some bar towels and sympathy from the server.

More food and conversation.

Three cheese mac and cheese pictured and around the table in a flurry of dining was, Irish stew, pork loin wrapped in bacon, shepherds pie and all sorts of good sandwiches.

Even as the forks flew, the conversation never let up.

There was the usual round of several conversations at once involving a really cool compass, a book on humans as computers, electronic gadgets (Old Grouch always having the latest) and how you really can program a robot to destroy the source of bad music. Tam brought some copies of Concealed Carry magazine with her latest monthly articles and last months issue that had my favorite partner in shooty squirrel adventure on the cover which was also cool. We even got Tam to autograph a copy of her last article. I'll never wash my issue now.

Then we shared even more stories.

Why you can't have too much bacon

The chances of Og spontaneously combusting in Mr. B's Prius on the carpool home due to the whole matter/ anti matter thing

And my personal rendition of "snakes on a plane"

All followed by some coffee and a Galway hooker (to go!).

We missed Shermlock Shomes and his beautiful wife, and Rich from Rich's Garage couldn't make it. I imagine Sunday will have an even more diverse crowd.

Until next time. . and for those that will meet at Broad Ripple Brew Pub on Sunday at 3 PM on 96th street (I'm off to catch a flight out again) - Slainte !

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Friday Firearm Follies

Time to load up. Yes folks, that's a truck that actually gets used as a truck, and has seen been "off road" a time or two this week. Washing it can wait, for I have an invite to a shoot out at the conservation club.

It's up northeast the city, an easy 45 minute drive for me. Look a billboard!

click to enlarge photo
I love this part of the country!

Soon I had arrived.

It was a quiet afteroon at the Atlanta Conservation Club. Several of the IND blog group are members and were supposed to meet me there but I don't see much sign of life.

Friday at an outdoor range in late Fall normally isn't bustling, but a request was made to help move match equipment to a new building. I bet that's where everyone is.

Looks like a work party was in session, the men volunteering to move match equipment into a beautiful new pole barn that was built. So they had a half dozen strong guys to move the stuff. The stuff was a bit heavy for me but I wanted to help so I volunteered to walk a fine four legged friend who had come along with his master and had been patiently waiting in the truck. He and I had a nice jaunt around the whole place, peeing on all the appropriate places (the dog!, the dog!).

When the men were done, it was time to set up.

It was getting late in the afternoon, and most of the folks left. Probably resting up for the State match tomorrow, but you could almost hear the crickets. On the plus side, I had my favorite spot to myself.
Fine, more room for my stuff on the table.

For warm up, I was going to shoot the Sig .45 with some new home loads to try out.

And then one of the groups XDM in 40.

And of course a favorite wheel gun.

We set the barrel up to shoot from 50 feet to do some qualifying type shots. I've been shooting only twice for just fun since Spring; with a death in the family there was little time. I went once with Miles for a ZAP match (Zombie Apocolypse Proficiency) and once with my Atlanta friends. It's probably not going to be pretty, but I warmed up with a few rounds from the P220 .45 using a sticky target on the much used backdrop, while someone got the paper targets stapled to the rest of them.

Not my best, but at distance not cringeworthy.

But I think that backdrop needs to be replaced or covered with a real target. Looks like an army of .22 attacked it before someone with a large caliber placed the killing shots to the head at some point.

Next I'll try two magazines, .45 acp, rapid fire, timed on the 50 foot target. Still getting some shots low. I'm either breaking wrist down, pulling forward or drooping my head. I'd ask RB what he observed but he was probably NOT looking at my hands (that guy thing). AT 50 feet, it's OK but I need to get out here more.

Next summer, hopefully things will be back on schedule. I miss going every week or so.

This is going to be fun; RB showed up with his IPDA XD in 9 mm to practice for a match and offered to let me try it.

As they say in the ads "I have an app for that!"

I love the XDM in 40 which I have reviewed before. But what about its " little brother".

From a distance you might think Glock like - polymer framed high capacity, autoloading, the little trigger safety flange thing Glock is known for, but that is where any similarity ends. The forged and milled slides reminds me more of one of my Sig's, as do the takedown lever and slide release. The grip angle reminds me of a 1911 while the grip shape hints at days with a Browning hi-Power. It also has a grip safety, like the 1911.

The XD may look like a double action but it's not, and it doesn't quite shoot like one. When the slide cycles, the striker is fully cocked, not partially as you would find in a Glock. First time long shots can be as good as a 1911, with the 5 pound trigger. It's a trigger clean enough to make good shots, for fun or in competition without being so wimpy that that the lawyer standing next to you is getting nervous it doesn't have more external safeties. Theh trigger is not going to break like a glass rod but it's really clean compared to other 9 mm weapons I've tried, about a quarter inch of take up, a hint of creep and then it breaks boom. (the creep part is where the trigger is lifting the striker block which serves to prevent the pistol from being fired in the event that it is dropped.

It feels good in my hand, it's accurate and it's fun.

In short, - I WANT ONE !!

The sun's getting pretty low in the sky, a few rounds with the Vaquero and it will be time to drive home.

The sun's fading and the mosquitoes are making an end run against the Deep Woods Off so it's time to go. First picking up brass.

I hope this person figured out it shoots better if the primer isn't in backwards.

Time to go, the place was quiet, the night almost upon us. A setting sun bidding adieu to a fun afternoon.

Rangebuddy waves goodbye as he drives off into the West. He's teaching a friends two college age daughters how to shoot for the first time tomorrow (avoid any grip it 20% tighter jokes) and is off to get things ready.

Soon, home to see Barkley. I think he's still a little miffed he didn't get to go shooting with me.