Driving away from Lakeland, I was so excited to go home. I was actually giggling at 5:30 in the morning, barely awake, thinking about all the fun things I was about to do. All the wonderful people I was about to see. This trip was going to be my most beautiful exile ever! Most people think exile means being kept away from their home, for me, it’s a “beautiful exile” because I get to leave it. Lakeland isn’t my home. I just landed in central Florida when Kermit hired me, and then I found the fabric planes I love to fly, and I never looked back.
My way home always begins at the Florida border and extends to some vague place, north and east of the Rockies. So many states, so many trails home. Like the path I used to walk back to my house after playing in the woods as a girl, I knew every step by heart. I memorized all the spaces between the logs I had to hop, to not fall into the creek bed, and the different tree limbs I had to duck under, before I reached the edge of our yard. The trip from the Florida border north, is exactly the same.
This morning, I was going home first to Tullahoma, Tennessee where my “village leader,” Wade, had kept the Speedmail in the Beechcraft museum for a week, while I drove back to Florida to repack for the rest of the summer tour. He earned my title of “village leader” last week, when he waited for me all day, to get through the rain between Nashville and Tullahoma. Just before dark he left a family dinner with his wonderful wife Dara, to come and tug my wet plane into the museum, take me to get my rental car, then sit and have a drink with me while I ate. Thanking him again and again, for taking such good care of me, he replied sarcastically, “Oh honey, you take a village.” I guess I do, and more and more the villagers are getting increasingly worried about me and Buddy. I’m hearing more and more cautious words of concern, “Please fly safe,” and “ Please protect that beautiful plane,” then ever before. How lucky I feel to have complete strangers care for us and worry about us! I do fly safe, but I can’t NOT fly, just because something might happen. That, to me, would be living in exile.
Thinking of my flying away from Tullahoma to the north, my favorite time on the trip home is always somewhere after takeoff, and far out from landing, where I can leave the GPS screen and just fly by heart. It’s my favorite time because it’s actually no time, and I’m not exactly anywhere. I know what the color of the sky is in no time, and that it begins at the Florida border, where the colors start to change from the naples yellow saturated light, and cools to a deeper cerulean blue. I know on my path home that I can smell the difference between Tennessee and Illinois, and tell where I am by the color of the soil or the color of the sky. The very best part of the trip home is all the places I get to drop in and visit with along the way. When we get through all the wooded parts of Tennessee and passed Nashville, the terrain softens and becomes much slower and greener and you get to play with all the beautiful farms. When we cross the river on the border of Illinois, and leave the popcorn weather patterns of the south, we can celebrate and cruise along with the river barges. After the river with the two smoke stacks, comes the part of the path where the trees disappear completely. Our entire world flattens into giant squares of green and gold carpets, sprouting wind turbines and farmsteads. They’re my favorite playthings, the wind turbines. I love flying between their blades and waving back. When I get to Wisconsin, my heart will race, because I know I’m almost there when I can smell the cooler air, and see the wind whip across the fields and lay the tops of the corn down in waves. Almost to Oshkosh! The biggest family reunion for me.
I am going home to Brodhead, and Waukesha, and Freeport, and Lake Geneva, and Madison, and Oshkosh, and Denver, and Steamboat Springs, and Miller Field, and Tullahoma, and then to my newest home Modena, Italy. There is family waiting for me in all those places. In fact there is family waiting for me to land safely everywhere, and I don’t want them to worry, but I need them to understand how homesick I would be if I didn’t fly. So along the path I’ll keep looking for a home on the ground too. I’m not sure where that home is, but I know what it looks like. There is deep hardwood forests and fields with wildflowers. There is fresh water and soft grass to walk barefoot across. The nights there are cool, and filled with the smell of wood smoke, and lit by lighting bugs. Most importantly, there will be a grass runway 3000’ long, with a wooden hangar that has a fireplace, and plenty of room for family to fly in. Until I find that perfect spot, I am happy to carry home with me this summer, sleeping in guest bedrooms and borrowed hangars, in my most beautiful exile ever!