Monday, December 11, 2006

Flying Dreams

In fifth grade I had a dream of flying over the playground at school. I've never forgotten it, but I had no more dreams of flying until about two weeks before going to Lookout Mountain.

Interpretations about flying dreams abound, but the main issue for me was that dreaming of flying was so lovely, such a beautiful and free feeling, I wondered if hang gliding might not be a disappointment after the dream flight.

I'm happy to report that my first experience with hang gliding, despite the lack of visual romance alluded to in the earlier post, did not let me down.

Not only that: it outdid my dreams.

The plane took us up to an altitude of 4,000 feet. Up until this time the plane's motor was a constant companion, and of course we were moving pretty quickly, so it felt fast and fairly bumpy. Then Eric said, "I'm going to release us from the plane now. It's going to feel like a big bump."

And it did, and my tummy felt much the way you feel when a fast elevator stops or takes off.

(Here you can see the rope that held us, about to be released.)

But then . . . but then . . . it was just us and the wind.

It was breathtakingly beautiful. I remember saying, "Oh, my goodness. Oh, my goodness." And "Beautiful. This is beautiful. This is just beautiful."

It was a clear day, and we could see so far in every direction. Not like being in a airplane at all, really, because then you can only see out windows.

It was amazing. It was beautiful.

And so quiet. The peacefulness struck me as much as the beauty.

I would have been happy to just hang there and say nothing (except I couldn't stop saying "this is beautiful....")

But this was supposed to be in part a lesson, not just a dream fulfilled.

So, at some point Eric let me turn the glider left and right and showed me how he slowed it down and made it go faster. I was struck by two things: how relatively simple it was to maneuver the glider, and how much I need to get in better shape. Because even though it's simple, it does take strength.

He pointed out Cloud Canyon State Park, and we wondered at a large green forest atop a plateau in the midst of all the autumn leaves. The leaves, of course, were a big part of why I kept saying "beautiful." They were at their autumn peak, and when you can see them for miles and miles around, the intensity of the color is almost overwhelming.

It was fascinating, too, to have seen them quite close as we were leaving the ground; and then to see the shapes and colors merge into a sort of impressionist painting as we were pulled higher and higher; and then as we began gliding down, to see them take shape again until we could point out individual trees to one another.

I remember asking Eric how long he had been gliding. Six years. What did he do before that? “I was in graduate school for an MBA.” How did he wind up doing this? “I just came up here one time and did it, and after that I was hooked.” After a moment of looking around at the beauty, he added, “I think I made the right decision.”

I remember showing Eric a brilliant red tree, probably a maple, growing in front of a house. And thinking how strange it was to have this view from this perspective. To see these people’s tree in a way that they may have never seen it themselves.

Eric would occasionally have me turn the glider. And sometimes he had me do other things. I always thought it had to do with the gliding lessons, but sometimes it turned out he was just wanting a pose for a photo.

Eventually we were back in the area of the flight park. Eric asked if I wanted to land the glider. I still don’t know if he was serious or not, but I said I thought it would be fine for him to land us! Then he asked how about if we first flew by the launch ramp to “say hello.” I said that was fine with me.

Well, “saying hello” to him meant swooping down over the group of folks gathered at the ramp, so close that we could see each individual face. I’m sure we could have heard their greetings if I had not been screaming. (I learned the following day from a man who was on the ramp at the time that we were going about 50 mph. No wonder it felt so fast!)

Happily I felt the peace and quiet resume as we glided into landing position in the remaining 1300 feet we had to go. I think in a way that was the most amazing part, being so close to the ground, and yet moving above it. I can’t find anything to compare it to.

Inch by inch we came closer to the ground until there was a very small bump and our wheels touched down, rolling to a stop. It took a moment to be unhooked and un-velcroed from the contraption I was in. And then walking was something else! Kind of like trying to walk after you’ve skated for a long time.

Within minutes, once I got my legs back, my main thought was that it already seemed like a dream. Being down on the ground, it was hard to believe that I really had been up there. It was such a very different perspective and experience, where different thoughts and feelings were possible. Much like a dream.

Except that it was real.