First, my apologies. Should have gotten to this weeks earlier, but every day I’m more like Lucy at the fudge conveyor, falling further behind even as I stumble forward. Things seem to be accelerating, too, though it’s probly only me just slowing down — and down and down. However it’s spelled, results are the same.

Each season about this time I’ll be doing what I’ve done every year since the Carter administration, imbibing from the sky as much energy and enlightenment and plain old fun as possible, when suddenly I’m forced to realize it’s not summer anymore. Time after habitual time I ask of autumn thermals what only summer thermals can provide. All those months of accumulating overconfidence and learning to expect ever more eventually bring dismay at finding the season’s inevitable first gray hair. And as anyone knows who’s tried to disappear their first gray hair, it soon returns — even grayer.

So what to do about this? Complaining doesn’t help much, however irresistible the temptation. And fighting back is pointless because there’s no way to reverse the irreversible. But heartily playing on, even knowing you’re sure to lose, satisfies far better than quitting ever could. (I was one of those knuckleheads who would stay outside until it got too dark to see the ball.)

While high-school coaches claim that sports teach lessons about life, what kids actually learn is that cheating’s okay so long as you don’t get caught. In soaring though, cheating is impossible. Those who cheat perish. Gravity and drag are unforgiving referees.

Soaring is a disco ball of subtle and not so subtle lessons exemplifying all the joys and trials of ‘real’ life, and this inexorable aspect of time is among the more salient. September’s morphing toward November is not the cheeriest prospect for soaring pilots, but it doesn’t mean time to quit. Later trigger temps, slower climbs, lower cloud bases and earlier sundowns are all fundamental aspects of our glorious game, and skipping out on them is like dismissing your grandparents because they no longer toss you in the air like they did when you first met. Savvy grandkids learn to reassess expectations over time, always angling for the very best of whatever’s left.

As October morphs toward December, the wise seek of some kind of worthy tradeoff, whatever that might be. See it as your opportunity to hone fine points of skill or discover some new way – any way – to stay aloft. This can be every bit as challenging, and easily more educational than bombing along at warp speed on supplementary oxygen. Maybe cheaper, too.

Here at Crystal, making chicken salad out of chicken s**t is often easy. About the time thermals disappear for our month or so of winter, a panoply of various local phenomena and hybrid mountain effects generates at least some kind of soarable condition nearly one day out of two, often in ways quite different from those before and after. In other words, unique. And all with snow gracing the mountaintops like that lovely silver at Grandma’s temples that would have looked out of place when she was your age.

So no, the first gray hair does not signal an end of anything, except summer. And summer’s end, especially in the Mojave, is in many ways a welcome change of pace.

Why this always comes as such a surprise is a separate issue…