BALLADS FROM BUTTON BAY

In the summer of ’93, one day each week we ferried a 2-32 for glider rides at a sleepy country club on the shore of Lake Champlain. This gig was such a kick that 45-mile aerotows there and back were usually the most interesting part. Even so, there was nowhere else I’d rather have been. Why? Unless you like enigmatic answers, don’t ask.

Headed home one time, we were skirting class C airspace when suddenly, despite our being painted on radar, here came a Cessna departing BTV and intersecting our course from 90 degrees left — behind Tug the tow pilot’s peripheral vision.

He was on tower frequency but we had no radio in the glider, de rigueur. My steering either way would make things even more hazardous; turn left and hike our closing speed for a three-way head-on, or turn right to put the bogey directly behind. This was someone already failing to see us crossing directly ahead in broadside position.

Obvious choice, release and turn away. But then what? Beyond glide range from any proper airstrip, we’d just spent the whole day proving there was zero lift of any kind. No chance of gliding home in free flight.

I picked a couple potentially landable fields and waited while the Cessna bore on in. It was exactly at our altitude and moments from cutting the line when someone finally awoke and banked hard over to starboard, behind us by the grace of Gaia. (Oh to be a fly on the wall of that debrief!)

Though I came about point nine seconds from pulling up thirty feet and releasing, actually I did nothing, and Tug was unaware of the whole episode until after we landed. He heard a lot about it then of course, and laughed so hard he sharted. No really, but we needn’t go into that.

All done and said, watchful inaction averted a late-night retrieve, and the Cessna’s propeller possibly gnarling our line and steel ring!

…given my heart a change of mood,
and saved some part of a day I’d rued.

Robert Frost

Another week, same setup only closer to the end of the season, and therefore to dark, wouldn’t you know, halfway home we stumbled into wave. Tug nosed down to hold altitude and soon we were over eighty. “Screw this,” said I, cutting loose to rise away and sail home in ironic style.

While Tug circled below searching for me I smiled inside, thinking, ‘If I had a radio you’d be glancing up about now. C’est la vie.’

Ahh, first time in daze with no reason to land except impending darkness. Most fun of the whole week! My soul begged to stay up all night, but it grew chillier by the minute and nature was calling too. So that day would end as anticlimactically as a thousand others. Vie la c’est?

When I rolled to a stop at dusk, there stood Rave, the boss, arms folded and slowly shaking his head. I had taught him to fly, then worked with him daily for years, poor guy. He never could stay mad at me for long.

I got away with so much whateverwecalledit back then! And have ever since, come to think about it. That’s why I try so hard these daze to think of ‘other’ things.