Flight Lesson – 25

photo 5I lost a year in a day and found it suspended in a minute spent inside a layer of mist.  Weather seeks the seeker.  The seeker seeks whether.  Both eventually find the other.  All fliers find their share of weather and find their share of weather lessons waiting there.  A teacher needs a student just as much as a student needs a teacher.

The day I met the mist I was particularly low. I was trying to work my way north of some very unpredictable weather.  A stationary front had planted its great big boots right on top of the southeast.  We were underfoot for days.  Moving north at a crawl. This was turning out to be the longest trip ever and a reflection of my past year.  I felt I had not accomplished anything in a year.  Every plan I planned crash-landed.  I had no idea what to do next, except fly to Poplar Grove and figure it out along the way.    After three days in Tullahoma the overcast finally lifted its feet to 1500’ AGL and we took off with 10 miles visibility.  North of Bowling Green the clouds above us smelled like Ragg Wool.  A thick pile of wet Ragg Wool thrown on the floor of the sky in a heap.  Not hung up to dry.  Shaggy blankets of clouds weighed down on the narrow strip of air that was available to us between them and the hills of Kentucky.  Nearing the Indiana border the overcast turned opaque.  Reducing the visibility.  In the absence of light you can just see to the end of a town, or maybe pick out a break in the tree line, but not to the horizon.  I had to look carefully ahead, pushing Buddy’s nose over at regular intervals, to scan for towers. Towers are real enemies.  Through the haze they take on the imaginary forms of Maleficent, the evil witch from Sleeping Beauty and Polyphemus, the Cyclops in the Odyssey.  It becomes a game for me to spot them in the sky.  I asked Buddy to please help watch for birds while I kept a look out for towers.  His windshield was damp.  Buddy was sweating.  Mist.  Mist appears kinder than fog, but not by much.  The mile or more visibility you get with mist is a trade for its tenacity.  Mist can linger.  We were between forecasting stations.  Nearest was Huntingburg but everything on radar showed the weather was fine.  I told Buddy we would land at Huntingburg, just in case.  I looked down to zoom in Foreflight, then back up, when everything in front of us disappeared.  We were in the mist. Suddenly suspended underwater in the air.  Floating in an effervescent lake of gray mist.  I said out loud, actually barked an order to myself.  “Look down NOW to the left.  The tree line is the horizon.  Don’t panic, breathe.  You’ll fly out of it.”  I was having a hard time believing my own orders and needed something to distract my mind while my body was on autopilot with my plane.  A thought flew into my head.  Count The Bag.  The Bag is a mail bag made of antique sails with Buddy’s N-number on it.  I’ve carried The Bag constantly for a year.  It is full of presents and my paintings.  An odd thought to think when your flying in the mist, but I’ve stopped questioning the oddness of my thinks and learned to listen to them.  I mentally opened the bag.  The paintings.  Starting with the first one I painted last June.  I said the titles, one by one into the mist, as I pictured them.  One – Self Portrait.  Two – Buddy.  Three – Mom, Rover, and Me.  Four – Nowhere.  Five – Milkweed Puppets.  Six – Abandoned Barn.  Seven – Bouquet.  Eight – Meadow.  The titles went on and on as I turned the paintings over in my mind.  Fifty-seven – Fly to the Light.  Fifty-eight – Tears on Lake.  Fifty-nine – Clock with One Key.  Sixty?  Sixty was in the book.  In Buddy’s picture book, wrapped in cellophane.  A birthday card I kept separately.  Sixty – The River.  As the word, River, floated off my lips we flew out of the mist.  I looked behind the rudder and to the left and to the right of the wings.  It was gone.  I was in the same visibility I took off in.  The mist had disappeared.

After Buddy was tucked into his new hangar at Poplar Grove, I looked at the weather logs from our route.  They showed 5-10 miles visibility and no precipitation or clouds below 1500’.  Had I just imagined the mist?  Had I imagined the minute?  What was in The Bag?  I had no idea.  I just put things in it and never counted them.  That night I opened The Bag and counted the number of paintings.  There were sixty, exactly.  Each one I painted to share a view, a thought, or an experience that was beautiful.  Each one a gift with no expectation.  Silent postcards.  A teacher needs a student just as a student needs a teacher.  The mist is a very good teacher and I am a very good student. The minute I spent in fear with the mist was spent recounting the gifts of my year.

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