Sep 10, 2006

The Balloonist's Prayer

The Winds have welcomed you with softness.
The Sun has blessed you with its warm hands.
You have flown so high and so well,
that God has joined you in your laughter,
and set you gently back again
into the loving arms of Mother Earth.

I got one of the finest birthday presents I have received in a long time, even grand enough to top the time back in grade school when little Florence Ransbottom let me put my hand up her blouse during recess behind the gym.

Okay, so that never really happened, so then it doesn't really top my Catholic schoolgirl sex story that never happened, so I guess this is tops.

I have to thank four people first, then three more. The first four, two men and two women, made me a very happy guy today. The two men are the Montolfier brothers, Joseph Michael and Jacques Etienne. They're the two Frenchmen who, on September 19th, 1783 launched three farm animals and then later two men aloft onboard the first man-made aircraft--the Aerostat Réveillon, a hot-air balloon.

The two ladies I have to thank are my mother-in-law and my wife, who made possible MY first flight aboard a lighter-than-air craft, the hot air balloon Sky Bird, this morning at the ungodly hour of 7am.

I could go on for three forevers about the wonders of that hour and a half flight, about the rigors of having to get up at 5 am to get ready to meet the flight crew at the local college for 6:30, about the eagerness and apprehension I felt the entire time we rode in the big crew-cab truck to our launch point. I could tell you what an honour it was to be able to help our three-person crew prepare the envelope and the gondola, to hold it's mouth open while air and heat were poured into it. I could share with you the wonder of watching this beautiful blue and orange balloon lift it's head into the dawn sky, decorated with white seagulls to commemorate the words of Richard Bach, author of Johnathan Livingston Seagull.

I could tell you how strange it felt to realise that we were going into the air in a 300 pound nylon bag and a one hundred pound wicker basket with just enough room for three people to stand in, and the leap my heart gave when I felt the gentle nudge as the envelope reached a point where it's eagerness to leave the earth was just greater than our weight and we drifted into the air with all the grace of a feather falling to earth. Only in the other direction.

I could go on for hours about what an amazing thing it was to look out over the fields and the trees and the houses, slumbering there early on a Sunday morning, the entire day still before them, a present unopened, while I floated by a thousand feet over their dozing heads, my laughter ringing out over the lowing of cows and the soft tread of a coyote we disturbed during his morning hunt.

I could tell you how alarmingly exciting it was to ride along as our pilot lowered us literally to tree-top level, low enough that I reached out and plucked leaves off a tree as its branches brushed the bottom of our gondola. I could even tell you how our pilot was intending to do a 'splash and dash,' which involves him lowering the gondola to the level of a placid body of water, low enough to splash the surface, then with deafening blasts from his propane burner lightly drift us back into the air, but the gentle zephyrs drifted us, thankfully, away from our watery course.

I might even tell you how our pilot flew us with no other instruments than his senses and a compass, and a bone-deep surety of how to work with the wind, not against it. Or perhaps I could go on about our three mile an hour approach to our landing pad. No carefully-marked and lit airport, no giant red "X" painted on the ground. It was, in fact, someone's carefully mown backyard. Our chase crew had dutifully waked this kind soul and asked his permission to land there, as it was flat and open and lovely, and he graciously consented, then watched in barely-awake wonderment as this dead-silent blue and orange ghost drifted across his rooftop and then settled on his lawn with all the silent grace of a woman sliding from bed, resting her bare foot upon the carpeted floor.

I could even tell you how I helped the crew transform our beautiful airship into a big wrinkled snake of nylon, then helped pack it into what for all intents and purposes was a big canvas sack, and how the wicker basket and it's blue velvet trim was slid into the little trailer like a hand into a glove.

The thing I will tell you about is the champagne, and the last three people I most want to thank. David and Joy Miller, and Jim Crossier.

These three people helped me fulfill my childhood dream this morning, too. After the sweating was done and everything carefully stored away, they treated us to champagne, which is a balloonist's perogative. You see, when the first Montgolfier balloon landed, unknowing farmers attacked and 'killed' it, thinking it was some sort of horrible firey dragon. Balloons being rather expensive things back then, the brothers decided to spread the word that if a balloon were to land in your field, or your back yard, you would be treated to champagne, thereby ensuring the welcome of balloonists for all time.

After our exertions, then, Joy unpacked a tiny table, spread out a tablecloth, and brought out a bottle of champagne, which was shared amongst the pilot, the ground crew, their two passengers, and the landowner whose yard we borrowed for our touchdown. Kind words were spoken, the Balloonist's Prayer was recited, and my wife and I were christened with champagne poured over our heads, welcoming us into the family Balloonist.

I have never spent a finer morning.

David and Joy Miller can be contacted online at Bayou Balloon Adventures, and you can see the photographic record of our flight here.


Crystal said...

How utterly amazing for your birthday! Spectacular, the pics are awesome! I hope you had a grand birthday Paulie, but from the looks of it, you did. Happy Birthday!

Mickey Glitter said...

Happy Birthday! Glad to hear you had such an amazing time of it!! =)

Scott from Oregon said...

I used to be talked into crewing for a few of these flights for friends of my father's in Sonoma County.

Funniest thing I saw was a group of Jewish tourist from New York lifting off and my father, on the ground and always a card, yelling "UP UP AND OY VAY!"

Stucco said...

I think you should end every post with Iambic Pentameter.

Nancy Dancehall said...

Amazing...simply amazing.

"we drifted into the air with all the grace of a feather falling to earth. Only in the other direction."

I love that line!

The Ivory Pen said...

My heart several ways.