When I was much younger, still a boy in Scouts, our Scoutmaster took us out to a local airfield to get our Flying merit badge. This kind of thing was his thing. He brought rattlesnakes to our church basement meeting room and set them free on the floor among us boys. He invited a cop to come speak about his role on the local force. He located and wrangled a cowboy that had ridden or was still riding from Canada to Mexico along the Continental Divide. For him if you do it, you’ve done it. Near as I can tell he insisted on getting us as done as possible.
It was cold and a bit grey that day. I recall waiting in a smoked out room filled with dated flying magazines and one hastily cleaned ashtray. The plaid sandbag for a bottom kind. If a set dresser for a movie about a quaint little redneck airstrip were looking for the perfect set they would need to look no further.
Kids exaggerate waiting. I recall as a young child sitting in a doctor’s office for half a day or more just to get my throat swabbed. But at the airport I was in my teens so certainly my temporal judgment increased by then? As far as I know we never taxied the runway. My memory skips from the waiting room, to walking up to the plane, to being in the back seat—passenger’s side—of the smallest plane I’d ever boarded now in flight. I wore a hooded Ocean Pacific long sleeve shirt and I could feel sweat running down my side from my armpits. It was not hot.
The Scoutmaster, two other boys and myself. My head raced to keep up with the fear and the amazing experience. Roads and trees and houses and other structures that can only be seen from above ran under us like we were a canoe passing over stones in clear swift water. The plane regularly rocked or rolled in a number of directions. The words yaw and pitch come to mind now, but as much as I might have known what they meant on the ground back then in the sky, that day, they might as well have been made-up.
He must have been instructing us in his own inscrutable way. He had to have been talking to each of us in turn because at some point I switched places with the kid in front of me. I’m certain I would not have done this without being asked. Imagine climbing over the dinner table to swap places with another diner; you can’t touch the ground or spill your drinks it’s OK if you step in your food—or your partner’s.
I now have the secondary yoke in my clutching clutches and my feet tentatively on the peddles ready to break free at the slightest whisper of an inferred command. I’m feeling the flight path he’s flying through my arms and through my feet. The seat is sturdy and soft. The floor of the plane is solid and sure. The windows are clean and safely shielding me from the wind. The engine is running and will never stop turning the prop. In the whole world I’m the only thing likely to fail. He let’s go of the instructor’s yoke.
Holy mother of shit! The North Pole just flipped to the South.
Nothing is there anymore. The plane, once a car on a road unable to go up or down without regard for the terrain or left and right without regard for the curve, goes where I send it. Directions were at my finger tips and I could call them each up at will or whim or whatever.
Writing feels this way to me. Like a book is just on the other side of the threshold there is no way to ease through. That you simply jump off the cliff, pen and paper in hand, and write yourself out of a bad ending before you hit bottom.
You might see why I sometimes avoid tarrying near the edge.