When I first started flying in my PT Stearman Blu, I bought Richard Bach’s book Nothing by Chance and read twice. It was a dreamscape, a wish book for me, for the life I wanted to build once. I had the desire to be like those men, a Barnstormer. It’s more than a story for me because I actually know Richard, and Stu MacPherson and Richard’s son Rob. I flew with Stu and Rob on the American Barnstormers Tour. I have seen that love of adventure in their eyes, and they still carry it with them, though they no longer fly across the country. They are all larger than life, real presences in my world, not just characters on a page. In one of the stories in Nothing by Chance, Richard shows Stu how to choose their barnstorming route with the help of an ant, they called it the “Ant Method of Navigation.” They followed an ant on the sectional chart as Richard instructs Stu, “You just follow him with a pen, now. Wherever he goes, we go.” The ant traveled a route that takes him right off the chart towards the piece of pie, the sugar. It is a great metaphor of the nomadic, rudderless adventure barnstorming appears to be, if you take the term “sugar” at face value. Professional Barnstormers picked their stops carefully, and the ones that thrived were master marketer’s. Perfect orchestrators of larger than life promotions, and dare-devil antics, that would draw even the most cynical towns person to a farm field to see the show, and maybe buy a ticket to fly. In barnstorming, “sugar” is money. I’m trying to understand the essence of “sugar” for me at the end of this summer, barnstorming with FiFi. I found such sweetness flying with this loving band of misfit winged things, and I flocked happily with them when I could, but drifted off route to see people and places that I loved. My definition of “Sugar” has changed, along with me. I’m more butterfly than barnstormer this year.
I left Steamboat Springs in a booze soaked birthday haze. As we drove down from 12,500′ on the two lane pass from Aspen on the way to Denver, I started to wring out my brain and sobered to one thought. Where do I go next? Buddy was in yet another borrowed hangar in yet another airport, and I was in yet another guest bedroom in yet another city. We were both safe and well taken care of. I had totally achieved the essence of Barnstorming, we could go anywhere in the country we wanted. I have mined flight waiver email addresses and contact info, so that within a few hours I could have a bank of happy customers lined up to take flights wherever I am. I knew I could support us. But where did “I” want to go? I wanted to go home! I wanted to go home so badly I ached. I laid my head against the car window and searched for it, but I no idea of where home was except in my plane. I had carried home with me for so many years, I had lost all concept of it on the ground. The only thing I could think of was to buy a ticket to Lakeland, FL for the weekend. Get my client mailing list I had forgotten on my computer, get some fall clothes, and get my hair done. Then somehow get all of that, and me, back north to get Buddy and just fly somewhere, anywhere.
By the second day in Lakeland I was wading through a sea of dirty laundry and months of unopened mail floating on my floor, doing absolutely nothing I should be doing, and everything I wanted to do. Actually I was having a pretty good time visiting gal pals, doing hair and nails and shopping, but I was not sleeping at all. I had slept like a baby in hotel rooms and guest bedrooms all over the country, but I couldn’t sleep more than a couple hours in my own bed. On the second night I woke up at 4:10am at the foot of my bed, stuck to my comforter after crying myself to sleep. My eyes were swollen slits, and I sat up in the dark and knew I had to leave. This wasn’t home to me. I walked out to the kitchen and got a glass of water and looked at my phone, it was full of messages from friends in southern Wisconsin. For me these texts and voicemails became a map in the dark, and I started to think of where the most light was concentrated…and I saw it. I saw my route home. I have always chosen to call a place home, to live somewhere because of a job, or my husband, or family and friends. This time I knew I would find home where the most love was. That was my “sugar.”
Within twenty-four hours my car was packed and I was driving away from Lakeland. Buddy is the last plane I will ever have, and I can’t imagine leaving him alone in a cold dark hangar for a whole winter, I would miss flying him too much. So I will keep my hangar in Lakeland for a winter base, but mostly because landing there, and hearing Terry’s voice in the tower, still sounds like home. Lots of love for us there. But it’s not my real home. I miss fall colors, and the smell of snow and wood smoke too much. Florida hasn’t felt right to me for a long time.
I love travel and being nowhere, it will always be part of who I am, and I will always have a home in my plane somewhere in the air below 1500’. This I know, but I need to find one on the ground as well, it’s time. So I’ve picked a place to land. It’s a perfect pink treehouse, right downtown in Lake Geneva, WI where I can walk and ride my bike everywhere. It faces south with light all day so I can paint, and has a porch that stretches all across the front, overlooking the lake. Buddy has a home too, in Hartford at Cub Air Flight, where we will be the guest instructor for September. There’s soft grass and freshwater and cool nights there, and the best part is…I’m right over a wine bar! Wish me luck. It may not be the exact right place, but I’m going in for a landing to see. I’m not sure this is home, but I know I’m getting closer!