Susan P. Blevins
When I was in my twenties I often flew in a small plane, probably because Paul, my boyfriend at that time, was a pilot. He was Swiss, and we lived for a couple of years in Kodiak, Alaska. He had his beat-up old Volkswagen parked in the front of the cabin and his 1948 tail-dragger parked at the back, right by the weed-infested runway we used.
I had several nail-biting experiences with him flying over empty wilderness, but no ecstatic experiences while airborne. The plane was old and very basic, and had no heat, so we had to wear insulated suits and boots. Uncomfortable. It had no radio, so filing a flight plan was of paramount importance so that search parties would know where to look for us if we didnít reach our destination. Risky. There were only five instruments and a joystick, so it was very easy to operate. Flying in that plane was not for the faint of heart. After two years of flying around in it I returned to Europe with no fingernails left at all, even though I had never been a nail-biter.
On one visit back in Switzerland, visiting Paulís parents in St. Gallen, he decided we would go gliding. Here we go again
, I thought, sheer terror coursing through my veins, but definitely unvoiced, as he was one of those men who deride and belittle people at any sign of weakness. I was too young and foolish at the tender age of twenty-three to have developed any judgment of the male species yet.
We went to an aero club, nestled in a valley in the Swiss Alps, donned our parachutes, and climbed into the tandem seats of the very long-winged glider, lying lopsided on the grass on its belly. The pilot of the tow-plane checked the cable connection on our nose, and before I knew it, he was towing us over the grass runway. As soon as we picked up some speed our wings straightened out, and then we were off the ground, climbing into a radiant blue sky, with only the growl of the little tow-plane audible in the distance. When we had gained enough altitude there was a sudden thunk, and we were unleashed from our guide-dog, alone in a chocolate-box picture, the noisy plane peeling off and disappearing rapidly into the distance, cable trailing loose and purposeless behind it. Above us was the piercing blue sky and below us the glinting, snow-covered Alps, appearing all the whiter because of the intense blue of the sky.
After a few moments I started to experience feelings of ecstasy, at one with the magnificent landscape, listening to the sound of silence. Communication was difficult, and we kept our peace. For one wild moment I wished for an emergency so that I would be obliged to bail out and float down on my parachute, merging into that seamless landscape forever. Mercifully, the flight was uneventful and too quickly over.
I felt that for just a moment I had been in the presence of God, a part of the divine creation, and was both humbled and exalted in that moment of eternal paradox.