One breezy winter day we had no chance of any usable thermal activity (this was the dark ages at brand X) and the only slope angled suitably for ridge lift seemed too far up a narrow canyon to safely approach nose first. What to do? Improvise of course.

First we flew across the canyon’s mouth, drifting sideways instead of crabbing. When we reached the opposite wall we turned into the wind and back the other way to begin a series of extended figure-eights at minimum sink speed, recrossing the canyon each way and turning slowly out at either side. It took a while (most things do, don’t they?), but gradually we drifted backward, downwind, up the canyon to its head without ever pointing our nose in that direction.

Common ridge lift in moderate wind seldom functions more than a thousand feet above high ground, but this venturi stuff tossed us almost twice that. High enough for courage to dive over the top and down the other side, through wicked sink and into well marked wave miles downwind. From there we concocted a neat little cross-country, returning home from the north after departing to the south – on a winter day that was otherwise ‘unsoarable’.

Just another one of countless delights that someone like YOU will never experience. Unless you try.


The experts are predicting something this Saturday which rarely happens out here in the desert: a 100% chance of rain! (I’ll see that when I believe it, but don’t tell anyone I said so.) We’ll therefore be closed that one day, February 2. Otherwise, Friday, Sunday, and Monday offer partly to mostly variable WX if you know what we mean, with not much wind and little or no precipitation.
Hey, it’s still ‘winter’ after all, and just think how much better we have it than those poor folks back east! In full sun, almost balmy…



Birds do the strangest things! They’re like us that way. Also like us, most of what they do is predictable, even if its logic is not always conspicuous. Instinct, whatever that is.
Yes, but exceptions proving the rule are what afford insight.

One ordinary summer evening I stepped from thick pines into a clearing about the length of a soccer pitch and half as wide. It was calm at ground level, but you could hear a good breeze tickling treetops. There, at the clearing’s downwind edge I counted nine individual birds of at least five different species, golden eagle, vulture, raven and more than one kind of hawk, hovering uniformly line abreast and seeming almost to ignore each other even while soaring only yards apart.

Ask yourself, what circumstance could have brought that particular menagerie together and choreographed such a spectacle? Normally, eagles hunt rabbits and hawks take the squirrels. Vultures prefer revolting dead stuff, while ravens just look for trouble and eat everything they find. In this case however, none seemed to have anything in mind but simply seizing the day, like humans lolling in local wave on a winter Sunday. I have to think they were inspired by the same curiosity and whimsical pleasure we all share with invisible currents that defy gravity, especially unusual or unexpected ones. What else could it be?

No knowing how long that odd squad had floated there waiting for me, but after a while I tired of standing beneath them and lay down to watch, propping my head on a mossy rock. Supposing I’d never see anything like it again, I sought to comprehend as holistically as possible, triangulating from those birds’ eyes through my perspective as a soaring pilot, to a frame of fluid dynamics — and back. That, on such a timelessly peaceful evening, was evidently too much. It drew down the current in other parts of my brain, and when I woke the birds were gone…

Oh you’d be right to doubt this tale, but don’t! I didn’t dream it or dream it up, and have no need to exaggerate. That’s what really happened, Cub Scouts’ honor (a two-fingered salute for those of you not in the know). If we were to monitor that clearing for years and years I bet we’d see some kind of similar performance there, rarely but inevitably, time and again. A bet no fool would take. Either way, the sky, like the birds and ourselves, is also both predictable and a source of insightful exception.

Or are we like it?


To distinguish wavelets barely large enough for a sailplane, on the scale of a mile or less, some bandy the prefix micro. Admittedly flippant and imprecise by several orders of magnitude, but I’m okay with it. So if that’s allowed, for this riplet above the clearing I nominate nano. Why not after all? We need to call it something.

And one wonders, while I was busy dozing, did the nanowave eventually flatten out, or do birds get bored too? Both, is my guess.


While the calendar says we’re about halfway through winter, out here in the desert it feels like spring has begun — and even if it really hasn’t yet, it won’t be much longer. That one rainy spell we had is well behind us with no more in sight for now, so the next few days will be much like the last few with variable high clouds, light wind and pleasant temperatures. Probably no records will be set at Crystal this week, except perhaps for creativity in finding and using lift…