Early Attempts to Fly

The second story window was partially open and the warm spring wind came wafting into Mrs. Van House’s second grade class room as I slowly let my head fall to my folded arms and dreamed that I was flying out the window and the harder I beat my arms the higher I would go, passing over the tops of the bushy Cedars that were lined up against the wall of the classroom. I rose above the trees and around the corner of the school, so I looked in a different window to see the class listening to Mrs. Van House reading from a book. The birds outside were making such a racket that I barely heard her and only woke up when I felt the book connect with the top of my sleepy head.

We were lying on our backs in the orchard, gorging ourselves on windfall peaches. We weren’t allowed to pick from the tree as Mom wanted only un-bruised fruit for canning. “Can you really split clouds with your mind,” I asked John Sweetman? “Not all the time; wanna try?” “You have to stare real hard at the middle of the cloud and ’split’ it with the power of your mind”. “Look, look, my cloud is splitting, “John called out and it was. I saw both halves as being different rather than reflections of each other. “What would it be like to fly?” John asked. “Well, we just need wings and a place high enough to jump from,” I answered. “How about part of the old tent rolled up in the garage and I could borrow some of Mom’s bean poles to make the wings flap and some bailing twine to tie it all together…Maybe it would be a good idea to have some wind.”

We tried it alright and John crashed into a pile of horse manure up by the barn, all tangled in his lines, but unhurt.

We had been given an old navy target kite that was so big it took two of us to carry it. The body of the kite was made from a 1 x 3 piece of wood and the whole thing was heavy, so heavy that we couldn’t pull it fast enough to get it off the ground; so John suggested bending a hemlock sapling backwards until the tip was touching the ground with the hopes that the little sapling would fling our navy target kite high into the wind; that didn’t work either. Somebody told us later that the old target kite had been towed behind an aircraft carrier for gunnery practice.

We had a pet duck that could only fly if you threw her up in the air, not being able to get off the ground herself because she was too heavy. Ce Ce was just an egg with peeping coming from a little hole in the side, when I carried her up to the house for Dad to remove the shell and leave Ce Ce in a shoebox on top of the unlit oil stove. Ce Ce, short for caesarian, grew up in the house and refused to acknowledge that she was neither cat nor dog. When they came close to her feeding dish, she always washed her food in water, Ce Ce shook her bill violently from side to side, scattering milk or water all over the cat or dog that came too close. The problems with her flying were her attempts to land in the front yard. One of us would launch Ce Ce with loud squawking as she beat her wings madly, to gain altitude and fly over the top of Cove Road. Ce Ce always came back to the yard in an awful crash that would send her tumbling for 15 or 20 feet, squawking the whole way, another victim of gravity.

River Otter use gravity a different way, having found a steep part of the slide down at the beach, they lined up at the top of the slide to come shooting down to the bottom which ended with a victorious crash into the bay. Sometimes, they didn’t wait for each other and slid noisily down the slide together.

And finally, we jump out of airplanes, just for fun. I was sixteen and didn’t need to see them pack my chute to assume that it would work. The plane was a Cessna, only this one had no passenger door and no passenger seat. The pilot told me to wait for last, so I waited for the two other jumpers to climb aboard. “Put your back to the instrument panel and clip your static line to the “O” ring in the floor,” the pilot told me. His name was Ed. The ride up wasn’t rough and the day beautiful. The lack of a door was disconcerting as was my position in the cramped cockpit with nothing to hang onto. I didn’t find out until afterwards what happened. Ed had missed the drop zone and did a “wingover” so as to return on the same course at the approximate altitude and put his plane over the drop zone again. I was first out but Ed didn’t tell me what he was going to do when the plane suddenly rolled up on one side and I was looking straight down at the ground with nothing to hang on to, scared to death. I didn’t fall out but I was shaking when I took a hold of the wing strut and kind of squatted on the step before the pilot signaled me to let go. I must have done something wrong and hit the side of the Cessna, causing me to turn upside down and the chute streamed out from between my legs. When the chute snapped open, I was snapped right side up; and would never jump again; my pride was my only injury. I can remember drifting slowly over the fields of Snohomish, dogs barked from every farmyard.