February 16, 2003

bringing it all back home

Bill Whittle over at Eject! Eject! Eject! has posted the most beautiful, most inspiring prose I have ever read on the internet. It’s about Columbia. It’s about flying. It’s about courage. It’s about what it means to be human.

One day, I was on a solo flight in a small, single-seat sailplane � a glider about the size of a bathtub, with long, thin, very efficient wings.

It’s usually dry in the Mojave desert, but this was still early spring, and the San Gabriel Mountains were covered in snow. Wind hitting the mountains has nowhere to go but up, and so that’s where I was � 80 knots, plenty of speed to get out of trouble � and perhaps two wingspans away from the trees. I was so close I could see squirrel tracks in the snow. Just thinking about a turn was all it took, and I ran the contours of those mountains certain that I would never have to come down.

And then I saw something I have never seen before or since. Off my left wing, between me and the mountains, moist air was being pushed up so fast that it was condensing, turning into cloud before my eyes. It was like an inverted waterfall of smoke, and there I was, dipping a wing into it. The power of all that lift, the force and the speed of it, all that free energy � and somehow, we hairless, gibbering, bickering monkeys managed to figure out a way to grab it and ride it. I remember thinking, Four billion years of struggle and evolution put me in this seat right now. Billions of dead people spent their lives dreaming of what this must be like.

And as I looked away from that upward rushing waterfall of air, I saw ahead of me another sight I had never seen before or since, for the sun was setting below a cloud layer, yet above a lower one, and there we were, just me and Shiny McShine � caught in an envelope of purple and gold glory that would make the most heavenly Hallmark card look like something done on an Etch-A-Sketch.

…though taking out an excerpt is like running with scissors through the library. Please read the whole thing. It made me cry.