Like some other graybeards I’ve logged a devil’s share of implausible saves from below pattern height barely within range of some landable patch, where whomever sat up front was aghast, and then amazed, wondering how it could look so easy. It rarely is. On one season’s very first flight, I coaxed a shoebox 2-33 up from four hundred feet above wet pavement surrounded by snow. That one was easy, heralded by a certainty based on tactile data flowing from atmosphere through aircraft to brain. Without such augury, neither desire nor tenacity may suffice.

Another dig out I’m still thankful for was near an industrial strip in Nevada with crossroads five directions, each leading nowhere. Alluvial streaks from scars in the landscape bled toward leaching ponds that glistened in synthetic tints of turquoise and lime as toxic, I imagine, as any exposed surface on earth. Colors so vivid in such brilliant light, only industrial man could render hideous.

That save didn’t take long, fortunately, but dread of what we’d suffer if we landed made us feel we were nicking brush – and there was no brush. It was already hard to breathe down low on such a sweltering day, and thought of exotic poisons rising around us made me want to hold my breath. But a cloying, acrid stench is what disclosed the thermal that pried us out of there. Working it was like holding a votary candle in your teeth, to light with a welding torch. But having no choice, I embraced that nasty godsend until we could crawl onto a rocky outcrop and get moving again.

Some victories bestow such joy you can hardly wait to repeat them. Others you hope you never will.