Fear, or Flying?

Once upon a time, there came a gloomy weekend forecast — warm, but cloudy and drizzly — so a friend suggested we go into Houston for a concert. After Saturday fooled the forecasters by dawning sunny and bright, we began to reconsider our plans. We could spend the morning tending to chores, drive into Houston in ghastly traffic, spend a couple of hours listening to music, and then drive home in the company of more or less sober fellow citizens.  Or, we could stay home and find something to do in the afternoon sunshine.

Just after lunch we set out, with no destination in mind and no real idea of what we wanted to do. Halfway to Galveston, I said, “Have you been to the Texas City Dike?” My friend hadn’t. Neither had I, despite regularly passing it while sailing to and from Galveston. I’d heard plenty of fishermen extol its virtues, but apart from summertime drownings it rarely made the news, so I’d never found a reason to go.

Clearly, that needed to change. We turned toward the water, stopping first at Boyd’s: a distinctly down-home place reputed to have the liveliest bait, the freshest table shrimp, and the tastiest Cajun Po’boys in six counties. After a little refreshment, we headed out to the dike.

Originally constructed in 1915 to keep the Texas City Harbor from silting in, the dike increasingly functioned as a pleasure pier, until its structures were destroyed by Hurricane Ike. The rebuilt five-mile-long dike is a wonder, and not simply for the engineering and labor that brought it back in only two years. Thanks to the storm, there aren’t any piers, bait stands or restaurants on the dike. For that matter, there aren’t any gift shops, carnival rides or vendors working out of the trunks of their cars.

Today, you’re limited to the dike itself: a road, a few picnic shelters, some porta-potties, and boat ramps. It’s very much a make-your-own-fun kind of place, and the fact that you’re expected to amuse yourself gives the dike a distinctly old-fashioned feel.

Once we’d driven the five-mile stretch of dike to its end, we turned around and headed back to Boyd’s. Along the way, we decided to turn onto the three-mile-long levee which extends to the north. Apart from a few bicyclists and a birder or two, we saw few people until we noticed a small cluster of cars parked at the side of the road.

Not yet aware that we’d stumbled across one of our area’s favored destinations for windsports, we got out to see what was happening. There wasn’t enough wind for kite-boarders or wind-surfers, but conditions apparently were right for powered paragliders. One man preparing to fly seemed friendly enough, so I pulled my camera from the back seat and decided to try a little sports photography.

As he took off, his flight seemed effortless, and with good reason. Post-trip sleuthing revealed we’d been watching Andy McAvin, founder of TxFlySports. Established in 1999, it’s the oldest powered paragliding school in the state and has graduated hundreds of students. Andy himself has flown and taught the sport around the world.

Browsing his site, I was surprised to discover Andy and I have something in common. I began sailing in 1987, and by 1990 was beginning my own boat-related business. His first powered paragliding experiences took place in 1997, and two years later he established his school. It must have been an equally significant career change for Andy, who previously had established himself as a Broadway actor and voice-over actor for touring companies, animations and tv commercials.

What goes up inevitably comes down, and watching Andy land was pure pleasure. The landing was easy, controlled, and seemingly effortless. Of course, four thousand or so flights and several thousand hours of experience helped to make that easy landing possible.

Powered paraglider accidents do occur, of course. One of the most recent, involving a collision between a Cessna Caravan cargo hauler and a paramotor pilot took place just outside Houston. Other local mishaps have ranged in severity from scraped knees to injured ankles and wrists, as well as a few hands damaged by contact with a propeller.

But on our warm Saturday afternoon, there were no incidents. There was only sunshine, a light breeze, and the pleasure of watching someone who knows what he’s doing, do it.

Once he’d landed, we drifted back to the car and drove on. Later, an online search for ‘Texas City powered paragliders’ led me to the Texas WingNuts website and message board. A post from someone who’d been flying at the levee Saturday afternoon caught my eye and I replied, thinking it would be nice to send along any decent photos I’d taken to the person we’d watched.

That ‘someone’ turned out to be Andy, of course, who no doubt has more than enough photos of his participation in the sport. Still, he liked the pictures, and I liked the complimentary close of his emails. There was no ‘cheers’ or ‘ciao,’ no ‘regards,’ and no ‘yours truly.’ His emails ended with what surely must be the hope and joy of every powered paraglider: the short and simple expression, Blue Skies.

In an increasingly constricted world, in a world filled with people determined to eliminate every risk, every joy, every gesture of freedom, spontaneity, and independence in their pursuit of some mythical security, the self-reliance, attention to detail, sense of responsibility, physical conditioning, and pure joie de vivre represented by people like Andy is enormously refreshing.

I have no doubt that both Andy and his students have heard the plaintive cry: “You could die doing that!” I heard that same protest when I began offshore sailing, just as a friend heard it when he announced his intention to hike through South America.

Of course an aircraft of any sort could crash. Certainly a boat could sink or a hiker be murdered. On the other hand, any of us could choke on a peanut and die. I could step off a curb and be hit by an out-of-control car. I could be mugged while taking out the trash or shot dead in a grocery store. Even staying inside the house, avoiding all the dangers of the big, wide world, isn’t foolproof. I could be confronted by a home invader, or slip in the shower and crack open my skull.

As my more anxiety-ridden friends like to remind me, anything can happen. But most of the time it doesn’t, and even if it did, I wonder: could giving in to fear ever be worth missing the blue skies of life?

Annie Dillard has her own way of putting it:

There always is the temptation in life to diddle around making itsy-bitsy friends and meals and journeys for years on end. It is all so self-conscious, so apparently moral. But I won’t have it. The world is wilder than that in all directions, more dangerous, more extravagant and bright. We are raising tomatoes when we should be raising Cain, or Lazarus.

I don’t have a thing against a good tomato, but if we find ourselves slogging along, eyes to the ground, oblivious to birds and breeze alike, perhaps we also should be raising our eyes to those beautiful blue skies. It might be time to fly.

Comments always are welcome.

106 thoughts on “Fear, or Flying?

    1. Philippe Petit, the famous wire-walker, once said, “If I see three oranges, I have to juggle. And if I see two towers, I have to walk,” I guess my version is, “If I see someone doing interesting, I have to have a conversation, and if the conversation’s interesting enough, I have to write about it.” It’s not only a way of sharing with others, it’s a way of recording memories for me.

  1. I’m of like mind with you about the need for some risk (within reason, of course). There’s less joy if you always do the safe thing or the same, predictable thing. Lots of fine images, but I admire the composition of the first one – it’s cool.

    1. I never look at that first image without thinking of the spinnaker we flew on the first boat I sailed on. A sail is a sail, after all, and the dynamics are much the same. Many people like Andy refer to their sails as ‘wings,’ and the use of a double headsail is known as going ‘wing and wing.’ As for that first image, I wish it were a little sharper, but I’d not started photographing birds at that point, so my skill set for flight photos hadn’t yet begun to develop.

    1. The dike’s a wonderful place. I know now that it’s quite the destination for birders, too. I’ve not yet explored it with birds in mind, but I’m looking forward to doing so — with or without blue skies.

  2. You reminded me of the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young song “Almost Cut My Hair,” which includes the line “But I’m not giving in an inch to fear.” When I looked online to refresh the lyrics after half a century, I saw a line that has resonance now: “Must be because I had the flu for Christmas.”

    1. I enjoyed Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, and I’m surprised I didn’t remember that song. Even after I listened to it online it didn’t seem familiar, but the lyrics certainly are apropos. Your mention of it brought to mind another of their songs that helped to sustain me while I was making my own transition from one world to another.

    1. It just occurred to me that one of the first fears I had to learn to overcome was a fear of people. I was extremely shy as a child, at least around strangers, but once I got over that, life became ever so much more fun. For one thing, fear cripples curiosity, and that limits what can be learned: about people, or anything else.

    1. Sometimes I say I’m like the bear who went over the mountain: I go out to see what I can see. Going into the world without expectations or specific goals can lead to some wonderful discoveries.

  3. Tom Petty, “learning to fly” is one I have on repeat. Obviously I challenge the fear narrative😀
    Great images that I’ll return to again and again.

  4. A few more thoughts. I don’t know how it is in Texas, but I do know how it is Maine, where I see courage all the time. But it is not flashy. It does not draw attention to itself as you describe in your piece. Instead, in New England fashion, it is an everyday kind of courage, where people do what needs to be done, often in the face of great hardship. Maybe it’s because Maine is a poor state where many live a humble, simple life. Maybe it’s because our winters are long and cold and even today must be faced with grit and ingenuity. Maybe it’s our heritage, Franco and Yankee. I don’t know, but I see courage all around me in Maine.

    1. I’m perplexed how you found ‘flashiness’ in this post, or any suggestion that real courage draws attention to itself. The point of the post is refusal of fear, and, occasionally, the willingness to act in spite of fear. Without overcoming paralying fear, courageous action isn’t possible.

      The nature of the courage that rises after a refusal of fear, or lives in tandem with it, always differs from person to person and circumstance to circumstance. The kind of everyday courage you mention isn’t limited to Maine. Anyone on the Gulf Coast who’s gone through hurricane recovery knows what it means to summon grit and ingenuity in the face of great hardship. I’ve written about the advice given to me after one of our hurricanes, by a survivor of multiple storms: “Start where you can start, and do what you can do.” I’ve yet to meet a circumstance where that doesn’t apply.

      1. The red paraglider struck me as very flashy, and the man’s use of it surely counts as extreme, something that most everyday people won’t do. Doesn’t mean he shouldn’t do it. If that’s his thing, then more power to him. But then you wrote the following: “In an increasingly constricted world, in a world filled with people determined to eliminate every risk, every joy, every gesture of freedom, spontaneity, and independence in their pursuit of some mythical security…” And it seemed to me you had overlooked everyday courage, the struggles of ordinary people who keep on going despite their hardships. Who live joyful lives despite the hardships and limitations. Where are these joykillers that you write about? I see joy all around me, in my town, in my area, in my state. And if this is not reflected in my blog, then shame on me for not being a better writer.

        1. Not every 1200 word post can cover every aspect of every issue. As I said, my point here was self-imposed restrictions due to fear. If you aren’t aware of those who are attempting to encourage fear at every turn, you’re blessed indeed. I lived with a mother who was a master of fear-mongering, and letting go of her fears in my life took time. There are plenty of other people in society who profit from creating fears in others, and they truly can be joy-killers.

  5. I like that big orange-red parasail thingie he uses. Great color. From parachute to parasail to somebody having the great idea of strapping a propeller on their back, or maybe taking a leaf (or propeller) from the swamp buggy. Not a big leap. Humans are nothing if not ingenious. I’m reminded of the old B.C. cartoon about the cavemen. Thor, the inventor, got the bright idea of standing on two long planks of wood and inventing skis. Off he swooshed down the slope and went swooping off a ski-jump shaped cliff. The planks went one way, he went the other and ended up plowed into a snowbank. The last frame was him in the fervor of invention, index finger raised, and one word in his speech balloon: “Straps!”

    1. I could see it all, especially that last frame, and of course I laughed. It’s a great reminder that most inventions (all?) require fine tuning. There’s always some detail that gets missed until a little experience gets added to the mix. As Icarus learned, wings are great; wax and feather wings come with some limitations.

  6. Dear Linda,
    we like your colourful pictures.
    We have such motorized gliders here as well although it’s forbidden to fly above our nature reserve but people often don’t care.
    Keep well
    The Fab Four of Cley
    :-) :-) :-) :-)

    1. These paragliders are less of a problem here than drones, although drones often are put to good use documenting conditions in our refuges. Of course, there’s a good bit of open space here, so there’s plenty of room to fly. Every now and then I’ll spot some of the powered paragliders flying along the coastline, or over the bays. They certainly are colorful.

      1. Dear Linda,
        drones are not allowed to fly on our coast, a strip of 75 km long and 3 km out over the sea and about 5 km inland. That’s an area with few villages but mostly empty land which is partly owned by the Norfolk Wildlife Trust, The National Trust, and The Royal Society for Protecting Birds. Paragliders are allowed at certain parts of our coast.

  7. That’s quite a day you had – especially since nothing was planned when you left. When reading about the dike being cleaned of any commercialism, I thought about the Rolling Stones song “Get Off Of My Cloud”. Hurricane Ike just kicked humans off of his dike. (well – it sounded funnier in my head)

    1. For all the damage hurricanes do, there sometimes are positive results. The dike is an immensely popular place now: especially with fishermen, but also with birders. I chuckled at your comparison of Ike with the Rolling Stones song: it really is apt, especially since we tend to give our storms human characteristics. Ike was a particularly grumpy storm; I can well imagine him stomping across the coast, determined to kick us all out of his way!

  8. I’m glad you clarified that you are not a tomato hater. Needed to be clear about that. Andy’s contraption looks like something out of Dr. Who– or maybe Dr. Seuss. Fun post, good message.

    1. I’m far from a tomato hater. As soon as summer rolls around, I want my sweet corn and homegrown sliced tomatoes, and a good tomato sandwich (toasted bread, mayo, no lettuce) is perfection. That Dr. Seuss comparison is perfect. Can’t you imagine a book called Oh, The Places You’ll Go! featuring a dude with a paramotor rig?

  9. We used to get paragliders flying overhead here but not much in the last couple of years. It was usually in a summer early evening, when the sky looked beautiful and the landscape was bathed in a soft, warm light. Must have been a wonderful experience.

    1. The kind of evening you describe probably had the light air that wind sports enthusiasts prefer. I wondered about heir limits, and found a couple of guidelines. A Florida parasailing site says, “If it’s too windy to set up a beach umbrella, stay on the ground.” A paramotor site’s a little more specific: “Most pilots, including myself, have a 10-12 MPH flying limit. So if the wind speed is over 12 MPH we don’t fly. The wing will handle wind speeds over 12 MPH, but you’ll be battling against the wind with very little ground speed. Technically we can fly in higher winds, but there’s no pleasure in doing so.”

      That makes sense, since the fun is a good part of the point.

  10. I really enjoyed reading this, Linda, and I agree whole heartedly with your sentiment about those who do not reach for “blue skies”. Mum always said that you must live life to the full, as you never knew what was around the corner. As children, my sister and I were the wild-bunch, climbing trees to see the world from a different level, crossing racing streams to see what was on the other side and generally afraid of nothing.

    The last two years have meant that I been more cautious, putting my adventurous side away for a while, careful about whom I have met, or where I have gone. I know, after many years of suffering severe bronchitis, always caught whilst teaching, that my lungs are not strong. But I am still relatively fit, ail nothing, take no meds, and hope to have many more years to enjoy blue skies in the future, so I took special care not to catch Covid.

    I don’t think I will be taking off in a hang glider, powered or otherwise, as I like my feet on ‘terra firma’, but hope to experience some freedom, with wide open spaces and blue skies… very soon.

    1. Well, as I’ve often said over the past couple of years, reasonable caution and unreasoning fear are quite different things. Increasingly, people seem to be realizing that top-down, one size fits all solutions may not be best; circumstances differ, and people should be free to inform themselves (not always a given!) and then make their own decisions.

      Even I was a bit perplexed when my 95-year-old aunt informed everyone she wasn’t going to be vaccinated for Covid. Then, I was astonished when I learned that she’s never been vaccinated for anything: not flu, not pneumonia, not shingles, measles, or smallpox. She did allow that she might have had a tetanus vaccine at some point, but she couldn’t remember. At this point, she’s still perfectly healthy, and living on her own. She’s happy with her decision, and that’s what counts.

      I’ve never had the desire to fly, but with age I’ve had to make some decisions about sailing and boat-related work. I no longer varnish masts in place, and as much as I loved offshore sailing, I’m past the days of being pulled up on a halyard to grab an errant line. Now, I love the prairie horizons rather than the ocean horizons — although the occasional trip to the beach still has its pleasures!

  11. Aw, Annie Dillard is a favorite, thanks to you. Her writing is much of the way I am able (choose) to live life here in the woodlands and river bottom. My skies are seen from the ground, or perhaps sitting in a tree stand, watching cottonwood leaves dangle and spin, or a hawk or an owl take flight. I am delighted by reflections of sky in the old river channel and slough. My whole life I’ve tested my fear of heights one way or another, but I’ve realized I don’t have to fly to enjoy it from another perspective. What a wonderful day you enjoyed. Getting off the beaten path almost always has rewards!

    1. Your mention of all the ways you find to enjoy the sky reminded me of Wallace Stevens’s poem “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” There’s no right or wrong way to enjoy the sky; there’s not a ‘better’ way or a worse way. There are only different ways, and the sky obliges by always being there for us. I do remember that you’re quite a fan of sunflowers and goldenrod against those pure blue skies; that’s one of my favorite ways to see them. Soon enough, those days will come again!

      1. I’m ready for spring! This morning we saw a pair of barred owls fly in and land in a tree just ahead of us. The female was huge!! They didn’t stay long, but it was a beautiful site. They took off in unison, into the blue sky and beyond.

  12. In a society of too much safety concern, we have become prisoners of our own making. Gone are the days when children unsupervised were playing outside until it was time to come in for supper. While I would hesitate to go flying at my age, I am still eager to get off the beaten path and go hiking on an abandoned forestry road. Great encouraging post, Linda!

    1. I remember those carefree days, Peter. Like you,we had our routines: homework came first, then supper, and then the freedom to roam the neighborhood until the street lights came on. We learned how to be free in those days: which is to say, we learned that freedom and responsibility go together.

      Age does change our options and inclinations to one degree or another, but if we always do what we’ve always done, we’ll never follow those forestry roads to new and equally delightful experiences.

    1. Thanks, Eliza. Something amusing just occurred to me: one of my current posts focuses on flies, and this one on flying. I don’t think there’s any deep meaning there, but it is a funny coincidence.

  13. Wow. You do find spots and stumbling across something like this is amazing. For me, there are few things more fabulous than being in a heeling sailboat in a stiff breeze. The air, the speed, the water rushing past. Yeah, you can capsize, but what are you going to do with your one wild and precious life, as Mary Oliver asked? Not measure it out in coffee spoons! We are meant for joy and denying that leads to constriction, whether by fear, social norms or all the other stuff people come up with.

    1. Prufrock would have made a terrible sailing companion! Everything you say about the air and water sounds is so true. That’s one reason I loved offshore sailing; once everything was properly trimmed and the boat had settled in, there was time aplenty to just enjoy the experience. Becoming one with the boat and its rhythms is extraordinary. In truth, most of the unhappy experiences I’ve known about have been the result of poor navigation, poor decision making, or lack of proper maintenance. As the saying goes, take care of your boat, and she’ll take care of you.

  14. I can’t even begin to tell you how much I enjoyed this post! Where is the LOVE button on WordPress? We need one for posts like yours. Anyway, the photos are amazing as is the fellow in them. The dike without all the junky stuff usually seen is spectacular and one my hubby and I would enjoy visiting if we ever get back to Texas some day. And the message here of not being fearful is DEFINITELY one a majority of people need to take to heart. Blue skies…I love that!

    1. Well, thank you very much! If you do make it to Texas (and there’s no good reason why you shouldn’t), I’d be happy to take you to all the great spots in the neighborhood, including the dike. One thing I like about the dike is that there’s such a mix of people there. They do charge per vehicle on summer or holiday weekends, but it’s otherwise free, and a great place for families to go for a little fun.

      I spent a little time this afternoon thinking about all the experiences I’ve had that might be categorized as ‘fearsome’. It was quite a list, actually — everything from being mugged in Houston to having my passport taken at gunpoint in Liberia — but here I am. One of the best reasons I can think of for piling up a few “experiences” is that when the next one comes along, we can think, “Well, I survived that, so I’ll probably get through this.

  15. A fabulous find on a hohum day! I believe there are no boring days for you because you are able to see adventure at every turn. And I am grateful that you continue to share your discoveries.

    1. It’s true that I rarely experience boredom, and for that I credit my mother. When I was a kid, if she found me moping about on the porch claiming to be bored, she’d shoo me down the steps, telling me to “find something to do.” I always did, and eventually I learned that I could ‘shoo’ myself. If all else failed, there always were books: another fine antidote to boredom.

  16. Fun post, Linda and a good reminder that life is about living. Though having said that, not sure you’d find me paragliding. I like the ‘Blue Skies’ sign off!

    1. Lookie who else I found admiring the blue skies this morning: my resident hawk. I’d hoped for more details, but this was the best I could do in the early morning sunlight. Maybe a juvenile Cooper’s Hawk? I really don’t know hawks at all, except the Red-tailed. In any event, I’ll bet this one was happy when it warmed up enough to make cruising the blue skies a pleasure!

  17. Linda, I found this particularly interesting, especially after spotting something like that contraption overhead here recently. Yes, it takes courage to paraglide. But it takes courage to LIVE, don’t you agree? Everywhere we turn, “they” are cautioning us to do this, to avoid that, such that some aren’t living at all … they’re merely marking time. Existing. My mom still reminds me to “Be careful” every time I leave the house! If I had listened to that advice, I wouldn’t have done a fraction of the things I have enjoyed. Ah well, “Blue Skies,” indeed!

    1. When you saw your own version of the fellow’s contraption, I already knew I was going to post these photos, so I managed to keep quiet and not spoil the surprise. It was fun to see him fly, although that kind of fun isn’t my cup of tea.

      I certainly agree with you that life itself requires courage — not to mention occasional stubbornness and a sense of humor. I do know things got easier when I finally realized that my mom really wasn’t worried about me as much as she was worried about her own situation if something happened to me. It didn’t change my behavior much, but I did find some new ways of helping her feel secure during my absences.

  18. To celebrate her 65th birthday, Linda, Peggy tried paragliding. And as you know, to celebrate my 75th birthday, I backpacked 750 miles down the Pacific Crest Trail, much of it solo. You will never get any disagreement from us on the value of taking risks. And now, with me at 79 and Peggy at 73, we will turn to full-timing with a truck and trailer and exploring the nooks and crannies of North America. Life’s short! –Curt

    1. I don’t remember Peggy’s paragliding, although I think I remember her ziplining. Perhaps not. In any event, the two of you are well matched, and blessed with the sort of physical strength and financial resources that allow for more dramatic endeavors. It’s always fun — and inspirational –to read about what you’ve been up to. What I’m looking forward to is your 90th birthday project. There’s bound to be one!

  19. This does look like a fun activity. When I started to read I was wondering if you would attempt to fly also. But I guess paragliding isn’t an activity to simply sign up for like one would for a zip line.

    1. Oh, my — no. This sort of thing isn’t for me. Even when I was younger and stronger, it was one of those things I enjoyed watching but had no urge to engage in. Sailing was something else; for many years, it provided untold hours of pleasure. Today I’ve moved onto land, and hiking and photography have supplanted sailing for a variety of reasons. The change happened so slowly and naturally, it just seems ‘right.’

    1. I’m with you, Alessandra. We can stand together on the dike and watch the flights. I’m not so bad about heights, but I know myself well enough to know I no longer have the strength to control one of those machines or wrestle the sail around. Even more importantly, the sport just doesn’t appeal. It’s interesting to watch, but watching doesn’t tempt me toward trying it for myself.

  20. What a wonderful series of photos! There’s nothing better than being in the right place at the right time (with the camera!) is there? I”m not big on the heights (give me the water any day!) but I do love to see something like that and admire those who find that adventure. What a wonderful day, Linda. I can read the joy in your words and see it in your photos.

    1. There’s a lot of parasailing on the lake here, but watching someone towed by a boat just doesn’t have the same appeal. I’ve been amused a time or two by hearing one of these long before seeing it. If conditions are right, the hum of the motor can reach a long way; it sounds as though a huge bumblebee is in the neighborhood. Of course, the gizmo’s wings are much larger and more colorful, so they’re not hard to spot.

    1. One thing I’ve learned is that everyone loves to talk about what they love, whether it’s a paraglider, a soybean farmer, or a gardener (!). Ask a couple of honest questions, and the door to a different world swings open.

  21. I’ve never heard of power paragliding, but it does look like fun. The only thing that would hold me back is my natural fear of heights (it’s entirely possible I’d spend the whole time scared stiff, screaming for my mother, or something like that which would be rather embarrassing!) But I do agree that we are living in times when “safety” seems to be our number one goal, and that’s beyond sad. Everything has a risk…everything. We need to just live our lives and be willing to take a risk now and then!

    1. The idea of power paragliding appeals to me deeply, but I never would attempt the sport myself. I know my limits, and I know I don’t have the physical strength or the willingness to commit the time and money to training. Beyond that, there’s the equipement. I’d want to own the equipment, so I could be certain it was maintained properly. It’s the same principle as never going up a sailboat mast on just any halyard. The concept of “reasonable risk” is an important one!

  22. I think I’d prefer to watch, rather than participate in aerial sports. I don’t care for heights and am wobbly kneed just standing on a step stool changing a light bulb.

    I can see the appeal but it’s for braver types than me.

    Dad told me once that he wouldn’t mind giving hang gliding a whirl. He never had the opportunity but I admired the fact that he’d even consider it!

    1. I’ve not been completely fond of heights since I got stuck at the top of the double ferris wheel at the Iowa State Fair in the mid-1960s. I got over it by necessity once I started sailing: someone has to go up that mast or out on the rigging. Still, even in those situations I was attached. Flying this gizmo? Once you start going down, there’s not stopping until…!

      I love thinking about your dad hang gliding. After all — hang gliding, or hanging out in the swamp, gliding through those water? Maybe there’s not so much difference!

  23. Thanks for this! Blue skies is such a powerful way to end… the post reminded me of my experience of parachuting many, many years ago. What an exhilarating experience that was! I’m not ready to go and do it again, but I am so glad that I did. Carpe Diem still seems like an important way to start your day!!

    1. Or, as some of my fishing friends say, “Carpe Carp!” I’m intrigued by your parachuting; that must have been quite an experience, however you came to do it. I’m a bit the same with open ocean sailling. I’m glad I did it, and I enjoyed it immensely, but common sense tells me that chapter is over. Now, it’s on to the next chapter, for us both.

    1. I’m sure it is, although my preference is to be on the water rather than above it. You’ll understand how I so easily made the change from sailing to prairie-sailing, though. There one similarity is the horizon.

  24. Go flying! There is way too much to worry about all around us if we pay attention and let it take over.
    From a song by a favorite “folkie”, Chris Smither
    “I know that you think worry is your ever-faithful
    Friend cuz nothin’ that you worry over ever happens in the
    That said, my fear of flying is visceral and it took a lot of pharmaceuticals to get me in a plane the one time I did fly. The sky is all his. Nice that you were able to connect with him and also I think a better choice of how to spend the afternoon.

    1. I’ve tried to appreciate Smither, but his voice just doesn’t appeal. On the other hand, he’s a good lyricist, and the guitar playing is terrific. I grinned at the lines you quoted; with those words, he’s restating some of the wisdom of the ages. Here are a couple of examples:

      “There is nothing so wretched or foolish as to anticipate misfortunes. What madness is in your expecting evil before it arrives!” — Seneca

      “Our worst misfortunes never happen, and most miseries lie in anticipation.” — Balzac

      “Let us be of good cheer, however, remembering that the misfortunes hardest to bear are those which never come.” — James Russell Lowell

      I’ve always loved flying, whether in a jet or a Cessna, but I started flying commercially when people still dressed up for the occasion and meals on board came with hot towels before and after. Those days are long gone, and I’ve no taste for what flying’s devolved into. If I ever make it up to your part of the country, it’ll be by car: less stressful, and more chance to see some sights along the way.

  25. I enjoyed your tale of capturing these images, Linda. I admire folks who are brave enough to experience this type of flying which I often see on the cliffs in California. Thanks for taking me there from the comfort of my very grounded chair.

    1. I’d much rather photograph a flyer than be one: at least, absent an airplane. I admire people like Andy, and love watching skilled people do what they do, but I’ve recently recalled this wonderful passage from Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life:

      “Out of a human population on earth of four and a half billion, perhaps twenty people can write a book in a year. Some people lift cars, too. Some people enter week-long sled-dog races, go over Niagara Falls in a barrel, fly planes through the Arc de Triomphe. Some people feel no pain in childbirth. Some people eat cars. There is no call to take human extremes as norms.”

      That always makes me feel better!

  26. I like your spunky spirit to turn the car around and spontaneously going to the Texas City Dike. Great sports photography and sharing of pics with Andy! I haven’t read Annie Dillard in years…lovely quote.

    1. That’s the way I generally travel: with a direction in mind, but willing to swerve if something new seems interesting. I was thinking about your area of the country; have you been to the Diamond Grove prairie? It’s a lovely spot, but somewhat distant from you — just south of Carthage. One day I need to write about my only experience of being pulled over by your highway patrol when I was on my way to the spot. It turned out fine, and humorous, and no ticket was issued — but it could make another great story.

  27. A beautifully written piece. I’ve never tried a pursuit like this but have a friend who does. He loves it. As you said, accidents do occur, but the same could be said each time we get in a car. He spends so much time learning about his gear, about the weather, local and federal regulations, geography and where he could land in an emergency. He’s prepares well so he can limit the risks and still get a load of enjoyment from each experience.

    1. Preparation’s key. What you wrote about the effort your friend puts into his sport could have been written word for word about sailing. How well I remember my first sailing instructor’s insistence that vocabulary was crucial. “Thow me that thingie” leaves far too much room for interpretation! Of course, that’s true in photography, too. Until I learned some of the vocabulary — the ‘right’ names for certain things — all of the articles I tried to read might as well have been written in Urdu.

      As my grandma used to tell me, an ounce of prevention really does beat a pound of cure!

  28. I thoroughly enjoyed reading what you’ve written here, but then I usually do.

    Whatever the undertaking, learning the associated unique language terms plus names of things is key to mastering the matter, activity, or profession. I’ve often thought in recent years how fortunate I was to have the freedoms with some risks my mother allowed me in activities beginning when I was quite young in city life and nature. My appreciation of independence and building of confidence began then.

    I did want to learn to fly though did not learn to do so for several reasons. Coincidentally, a serendipitous event resulted in my taking a flight with a fellow who had gotten his pilot’s license. We eventually wed and for a few years enjoyed flying together allowing me to engage in some co-piloting activities though I didn’t actually pilot the plane.

    1. You’re sure right about the importance of learning the vocabulary. I still remember and smile at a story from my days of teaching sailing. I asked a young woman to put a coil of line on the dock. She looked at me in complete befuddlement and said,”What’s a dock?”

      I had a ‘safety first’ mother and a ‘let’s give this a try’ father. Over time, my father’s approach to life finally overcame my internalized cautions, and things have been great fun ever since. I’m seeing more and more articles about the damage being done to children who are kept in a bubble, and I believe them.

      Have you ever read West With the Night by Beryl Markham? I’ll bet you have. What’s always been interesting to me has been the way her writing about the process of learning to fly fits so well with my sailing experiences. Learning is learning, wherever and however it comes.

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