SO MUCH FOR THE RAIN

Our wettish week of occasional precipitation should come to an end Thursday.  It’s been good for snow in the mountains, which now will likely last till spring, but did little more than damp down the dust out here in the desert.  No surprise there.  Wave conditions hidden up inside low cloud cover will also flatten out, leaving lots of light-and-variable and partly-to-mostly for the coming week… with some chance of the season’s first little thermals in any rogue sunny patches.  A midwinter night’s dream.

MORE THAN JUST A CLICHE

We’re all suckers for cliches, not even like we have a choice. We hear some new phrase and get how it works the way babies learn syntax, then it infects our own vocabulary before we’ve even thought about it. Third time you hear the same words in a different context, it’s already a cliche. Fourth is when it spills from your lips unbidden. Cliches may not all live forever, but most will outlast any of us.

I avoid them like ants in a campsite, meaning with little success, and when they persist I try to expedite them somehow. Not only in print for stylistic reasons, but more importantly in general speech, and therefore in thought. Carelessness in thought and speech reinforce each other. Still, however effectively you ‘expedite’, there’ll always be another ant cliche. If they weren’t so small, torturing them might be more fun, but as it is there are better ways to waste my time. Wagged any dogs lately, tail?

Cliches form by verbal accretion because they encapsulate some kind of truth. The ancient bromide about old pilots versus bold ones is… wait for the cliche… a prime example.

Like apparently all kids, I grew up knowing I would never get old, and somehow maintained the self-deception well across one of our vaguest cliches, middle age. How, normal folk might wonder, could a simple minded luddite get this far with most of my original equipment still operational? Copious doses of dumb luck is part of the answer, plus some degree of undeserved providence… Wait, you say, there’s a difference? (If there were no difference, silly, they wouldn’t each have their own cliches!) Luck is always dumb, whether it’s the good kind or not, and providence is always predetermined, deserved or otherwise. Sorting that out is like untying a knot, follow one strand first to see where it comes from or risk tightening it before you start.

Anyway… I was coming down from my first flight in something hotter than a 1-26, intoxicated with that godlike feeling, when I woke up on downwind leg screaming across treetops. Yes it was also my first-ever low pass, totally unpremeditated…

Parallel to the runway lay a wide ridge a hundred feet high, that from overhead hardly showed as a hill. Before pulling up I glanced over — and couldn’t even see the airport. Which summoned one of the earliest of a bazillion timely epiphanies in my soaring life. If I misjudged my energy, or pulled up too late, it could be suddenly impossible to reach the runway…

Every moment in flight is subject to prior judgment, and all judgment depends on experience. That day, I had almost none of either. Forty years later I dug out a tattered logbook to find the entry, and it reveals more now than I could imagine at the time:

Greatest flight ever.  Loops, dog fight with hawk, twice below clouds and back up 6000’.  Cloud descents, improvised pattern.

Cloud descents, plural? It was the last flight on that page, and below it my time totaled nearly 157 hours. Bold perhaps, but lightyears short of old.

Uh oh, did I just coin a cliche?

DOG FOOD

Been cooking these weekly stews for several years now, and implausible (or impossibly artless) as some may seem, all are true.  Well truthful, anyway.  Inevitably though, fresh fixin’s have become scarce.  Not much left but distilled morsels, like that overcooked goo at the bottom of a crockpot.  Plenty nutritious if you happen to be starving, but hardly worth space in the fridge.  Dog food.

Exhibit A: 36:00 N / 118:00 W
A hundred miles out, traversing a notorious thin stretch, Pedro unearths our first thermal in what feels like half an hour.  We need this climb, so when the lift improves he tightens his turn to bite in.  It’s exactly the right move, and spontaneously I chirp, “Go Pedro, GO!”

What he hears, of course, is ‘stop circling and go on’.

Once back around to our heading, he squares his shoulders, tilts his head and rolls sharply level.  At first I think he’s only nudging the circle that direction — until he noses over straight away from perhaps our last thermal for another half hour.  My sorry face abaft does no good.

We’ve flown together enough to know each other fairly well, and after one monosyllabic volley each understands the other.  My fault for not communicating clearly.  His mistake was failing to question what he rightly thought a misguided directive.  Like so many sins, easier to commit than to correct.

Suddenly low as our initial climb back home, and with the abandoned thermal receding behind, those querulous angels arise to grapple again in the dust behind my blue-blockers. We really need to keep moving, but ahead lie mountains well above us and no cumulus anywhere. Landout options? Okay for the moment, but getting lower here could push one after another out of reach.  Going back for a thermal seldom works; if it’s already risen away we’ll be lower still and need to retrace ever further toward the nearest lakebed.  All for a groundspeed less than zero.

But the angels deal in realities, not rationalities.  Tiring of the trivial, they curl up together for another nap, leaving just Pedro and me, alone with gravity…

So how do we get out of this jam?  You’ll have to ask him.  The preceding testimony is my entire recollection of that day, swear to Gaia.  All other details have stirred themselves into memory’s broth of uncategorized data, atomized, emulsified, but never lost.  What I wonder is, has this single vignette been somehow resected from an otherwise ordinary (i.e. memorable) flight?  And if so, by whom and why?  Maybe the angels know.

Regarding denouement, off-field landings are anything but forgettable, so it’s safe to assume we escape somehow.  Probably involving luck, right?  Use your imagination.

Hey, there’s an idea!  If scraps like this are all that’s left in my cockpit crockpot, maybe YOU should toss in some vittles of your own and heat ‘em up.  Somebody out there ought to have chow more satisfying than these greasy bones.

And if not, why not?  Dogs who eat too well only get fat.

WELCOME BACK!

WELCOME BACK everyone, and here’s to a prosperous ’19 for us all!  For starters we’ll have several days of partly to mostly, with lightish winds and only a small chance of rain.  Ideal weather for midwinter training and currency practice, if you know what we mean.  And think of this: every single day for the next five months will feature a longer afternoon.  Quite a trend, wouldn’t you say?

SEE YOU SOON