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Tuesday Morning Muse

April 26, 2011

The weather has drawn a perfect circle over the hilltop I’m ascending. I downshift to second to stay in the sweet RPM spot. The next time I look up, a hawk is hovering in the center.

“This is too good to miss,” I say into my helmet.

Part of me wants to keep going, keep eating up the visual buffet that my throttle hand dishes out. Another part of me knows better. I hit the kill switch and clutch-coast to a stop on this abandoned road. Road borne noises are now replaced by gauzy sounds of spring chirping against the gathering storm winds.

Helmet off and looking up, I can see the movements my hawk makes against the rising air currents to hold her station, tiny adjustments of her flying surfaces that keep her from rising or falling. She is definitely shopping for breakfast. Another Hawk circles nearby. Her mate or a poacher?

Over my shoulder and to the rear, the clouds are dark and threatening. In the distant valley towards the airport it is raining, evidenced by the veils of white that suspend like a circular shower curtain over the gray mist. I marvel at my luck, as this morning’s route appears to keep me under this circle of blue clear sky.

To the east, Satan is shoveling hard, stacks of monochrome dark loom over my nice little circle. The now risen sun is hidden behind these ramparts, lighting the tops of the gray walls, turning the uppermost cloud layer brilliant white. My chest swells with the sight, because I have many memories of making the journey to see over such walls. I imagine that I know what they look like from above.

Guiding a flying machine or a motorcycle to be inside the weather has made my life richer. So be a speck in the infinite sky, the literal fly on the wall watching the show from orchestra seats. For a time, I brought cameras along on flights to help me remember the sights and share them. That stopped pretty quickly. For me, no lens could capture the dynamic delight and danger occurring inches away from my eyes.

It is an amazing thing to be involved in weather buttressed only by a quarter inch of Plexiglas. I can feel when it gets colder. Cloud moisture I can feel in the cockpit, via smells, the stick can get clammy in high moisture and high anxiety. It is indescribable to be surrounded by power that can delight me in its beauty yet destroy me instantly if I am not careful. Maybe that’s why some folks like to walk on the rim of active volcanoes…or ride motorcycles.

I was homeward bound and airborne from Minnesota one spring evening, and the challenge was to circumnavigate a line of boomers off my left wing. I kept flying just to the west of this line for hours. I was looking for a hole, a cloud canyon that would let me turn east for home. I bored on, my engine and prop dragging me thru the humidity. I was in no danger. None. I was in the clear, a spectator flying along a great wall of darkness that hovered over the green farmland, and extended straight up to 40,000 feet. The sun was perched on my right wing tip, creating unlimited shades of green and brown on the wet earth below by left wing.

“Kansas City Center, Mooney two-six-Five-two whiskey: Request.” 

“Mooney 52 Whiskey: Go”

“Ah, Center, five-two-whiskey needs to head east eventually, do you see any way around the weather?”

“Mooney 52 Whiskey: (laughing) that line at your nine O-clock begins in Galveston TX, and proceeds uninterrupted to Maine.”

“Roger that.”

Motorcycle pilots can pull under that ubiquitous overpass or rotting gas station at such times, but an aircraft pilot has a three dimensional problem to solve.  My Dad has always told me to take each flight ten minutes at a time. If you don’t like what you see, turn around. If nothing bad is happening, keep going. He ought to know.

He has flown from CT to St Paul on days when icing and freezing precipitation were forecasted. His standard line was,

“I’ll just take a look around.” He always made it.

Sure, he had to divert or land and lay low for a few hours, but then he’d launch again to ‘take another look around’.

I had been looking around now for hours, so I put a game plan together: get fuel and find a place to sleep until this leviathan moisture band moves away towards richer krill grounds. In the failing light, I see a hole…not a real hole, but a place where the ceiling was much higher above the ground.

I reduce power and bank in. Below me, the green is vibrant; off my wingtips it is dark and gray. Ahead, the cloud ceiling a thousand feet above my ship, is pink and roiled with gray waves. Then, as if someone flipped on a switch, the intensity of the pink increased, and the gray waves turned to purple. Wet green below, pink/purple above. Then I noticed movement. No wait, not cloud movement, but tiny needles of lightning threaded through the clouds. Horizontally, not vertically. Millions of tiny capillaries of light spun their web of white gold, supporting the pink cloud like a gentle hand. It was unreal.

Sure, I had been schooled that flying under towering clouds was a no-no due to the potential for wind shear: upward or downward air currents that can exceed 200 MPH, something that would crush my puny machine like a cigarette butt, with my little pink body inside. But here I am, enraptured by the natural beauty, stunned, paralyzed by the show, all the while, static charges are beginning to raise the hair on my arms, and the radio noise in my ears is more like pounding surf.

My pulse is racing; thoughts are wrestling for my conscious attention.  My internal tension mounts like during that giddy overtake of a line campers on my Triumph, or like puberts experience during unprotected sex.


“This is great!”


“OMG, I have never seen anything like this!”


“I wish I could capture this feeling up here!”


“Ok Ok, I’ll do it, I’ll turn around, just a few more moments….”

This is how accidents happen, Asshole… 

I turned around. Got a hotel. Spent the night. It was 12 years ago, but I can recall everything about that flight instantly, it’s burned into my synapses. No lens can capture that, and riding solo on an early spring morning can let the genie out of the bottle and I’m right back there again…if I pay attention to the visual cues.  May we all heed them when we need to see the Geenie again.

Make it a great day!

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