At this altitude taking pictures is fairly easy but on still has to be careful
The window is open and the warm wind whips through the cockpit carrying with it the pleasant scent of the damp evening air accompanied by the spruce trees lining the lakes shoreline…it’s as close to heaven as I can get while earthbound.
I’m concentrating on holding the camera steady with my right hand and framing my subject perfectly in the viewfinder while holding the stick with my left hand–it’s more art than science really. I once told a dear friend I could use an extra set of hands and eyes during this part of the flight–she would have not only made the process much easier and safer, she would have felt what I felt, seen what I saw, and be moved like I was moved.
I can feel the vibration of my plane through the control stick and the throttle reverberate through every nerve ending in my hand as we fly northward towards the darkening mountains. The plane is very nearly flying itself one hundred feet above the deep water as we cruise along at ninety miles per hour. My hand is there on the controls only as a safety of sorts…my craft could fly itself like this for long periods of time without my intervention given the calm evening conditions, but I want to ensure we stay under control even should a stray gust of wind or other anomaly surprise us.
My eyes are drawn back to the left as I look out the open window at the only sunlight I’d seen all day. This sunlight actually was the first anyone around this area had seen in a few days, a few days of grey, murky skies and heavily diffused sunlight. But this sunlight I was seeing now was so welcome, so warm, so beautiful, and it would only last for a few more minutes. This sunlight was slowly fading as the sun slipped more and more behind the mountainous horizon making its way to more exotic places than mine–creating a beautiful sunrise to offset my gorgeous sunset no doubt, in far away lands more foreign than where I sat.
I glance ahead to ensure all is well and we are not going to fly into any hillside or other obstruction, then back to the view finder for some last second adjustments before taking my hand off the stick and gently pushing the shutter button–forever capturing another memory. After a quick check to make sure the picture is adequate, I roll the plane hard to the right and get back on course to my home base before night sets in. Fate does not shine upon those who tempt it and I know without doubt landing a floatplane after dark is tempting fate.
Another successful flight, another memory locked away in my mind that will be with me until my last breath. This life is exactly what I’ve been searching for and thankfully found…it keeps me sane, happy and whole. Without these things in my life I would not be complete. I suppose this life I found and built has a foundation based on being happy and content. All things being equal, I suppose my life is in a state of symbiosis. My friend would be proud.
Cruising at 30 feet above the water and 90 mph…chasing the sun
The last of the warm late evening sun is slowly dropping below the horizon leaving the clouds a pinkish hue as the water turns to a darker shade of grey; changes that are happening quite quickly at these latitudes. My Supercub knows neither day nor night, it only knows that it is flying–and flying is where we both prefer to be.
We skim along thirty feet above the lakes surface at a brisk ninety mph heading nowhere in particular, only chasing the quickly disappearing dark red sun on its journey to far away places. For now the sun is rising even while setting. The Green Cub and I may be witnessing a beautiful sunset here in the forests of central Maine but those in India or surrounding areas may very well be witnessing a just as beautiful sunrise–the sun waits for no man as it appears to continually move through our sky.
The engine drums along rhythmically leaving my mind to wander amongst fleeting random thoughts while my right hand holds the craft steady on a westerly course…a course that I know will have to change soon due to the rapidly advancing darkness and the inevitable landing that will come. My left hand rest easily on the throttle, it’s not really doing anything other than guarding it should a quick adjustment be needed in power. But no quick adjustments are currently needed, the airplane is in a state of equilibrium with all forces being equal and with the evenings smooth air it feels as mundane as sitting in your recliner at home. However be aware! This really isn’t mundane by any stretch of the imagination, this is a breathing, living machine less than three stories above the dark waters of the lake moving at one hundred and thirty-two feet per second…one must pay attention even when the mind wanders.
Although the landing is only minutes away, it is in the future and not a priority; for now all I want to do is enjoy every second of this flight. For now I just want to feel the gentle pitching and rolling of the plane as we traverse the regions between the loosely scattered islands, I want to see the pink fade to orange then gray and black before my very eyes. I want to savor every second of this flight for I know I will remember this ’till my dying days, I will look back when I’m eight-five and recall the feelings, the sights and the smells.
I won’t change course just yet…three or four minutes maybe, but not just yet. Right now I’m content sailing along effortlessly chasing the rapidly setting sun in the west. Of course I will never catch the glorious sun, she’s moving at twelve miles every second! Given her speed and the speed of the Cub I’d say we will see darkness long before I get near the approaching mountains just miles before us.
With that thought I ease the stick to the right with my hand and feel the plane respond immediately as she banks smoothly finally settling on a southeasterly course. My home base is only minutes away but already I can feel the yearning set in as I know this flight is drawing to an end. Already I know this feeling of contentment I have, these sounds I hear, this view I have, these sensations I’m feeling are drawing to an end and this will be just another line in the logbook–except it won’t. I’ve recorded this short flight in writing as you, dear reader, can testify. I will at the very least have words I can return to when I want to relive this flight! It is forever locked in my memory and can be relived at a moments notice by reading these very words…
“I think I hear a noise.” she said as she climbed deeper into the sleeping bag. I also heard the noise but didn’t think much of it—it’s the far reaches of northern Maine and “noises” are common in the forest after dark so I elected to stay warmly in my bag hoping she’d fall back asleep. Well that wasn’t going to happen. “Aren’t you going to check it out?” she asks from underneath the mighty sleeping bag in her best defensive position. Well to be truthful I hadn’t intended to, but feeling her nervous grip on my hand tighten even more, I figured I’d better do something or it might not be the best camping trip of the season. “Sure.” I said in my deepest, most manly voice I could conjure up at this early hour, “I will see what all the commotion is about.”
I grudgingly slipped out of the warmth of the sleeping bag into the cool night air and quietly unzipped the front of our tent in search of the origin of the odd sounds. The strange part is I wasn’t hearing the somewhat familiar sounds most campers are used to hearing. You know, the sounds of a nosy, hungry bear looking for a free meal or the chattering of raccoons as they destroy a campsite…I was hearing things I’d never heard in the woods before. Not scary sounds mind you, just intriguing and unsettling sounds because of their unfamiliarity. I was totally perplexed by what exactly could be making all the strange sounds I was hearing, the sounds were certainly increasing in their frequency and intensity.
As I peered intently out into the semi-light I tried to get my eyes to adjust to the scene before me in the slowly oncoming dawn. The shadows that were present were playing tricks on my eyes, but through the gloom I could make out the shape of my airplane parked safely on the beach merely a hundred feet away. As much as I tried I could not see anything unusual in the direction I’d been hearing the noises—or could I? As I looked more intently and my eyes adjusted to the faint light, I could see shapes moving quite adeptly on the floats of the Super Cub. Not just one or two shapes mind you, there appeared to be three and possibly even a fourth!
After hearing my nervous tent-mate ask for the umpteenth time what it was that was making those noises, it finally dawned on me—I was watching a family of otters having a blast playing on the floats of the plane and chattering up a storm while splashing around in the water in the still of the early morning twilight. I knew I’d go out to that airplane after they’d left and find evidence of many fresh water clams on and around the floats of the Cub, those little critters were having a feast and my floats were their dining room table! Now that was the easy part, my next task was to try and explain to my anxious female companion that river otters are not man-eating monsters intent on catching us unaware in the tent…
I had just turned twelve years old and was staying at some sporting camps in the woods of northern Maine with my Grandfather and a close friend of his named Randy. The owner of the camps had asked Randy to watch over them for awhile so he could take care of some personal business, business that would take two to three weeks. Randy had asked my Grandfather if he’d like to spend a couple of weeks in the camps with him and that he should bring me along—this was the custom, I’d been tagging along with these two in this same airplane since my earliest childhood memories. Well needless to say we had an enjoyable stay in those camps that summer. Having spent time in a camp President Theodore Roosevelt had stayed in and another fascinating cabin called the Indian Camp, it was more than I ever could have asked for and it was truly a great experience for my young soul. I could write a good, long chapter in a book based on my twelve year old memories that summer of ’82, but one stands out and has never been told—until now.
I had left the camp one rainy day to go wander in the woods around the area leaving Randy and Gramp in the cabin. This day however, I didn’t go very far like I typically did, this day I headed across the property and the passed the other camps to where the plane lay tied up to the dock. To me Randy’s airplane was mystical. Sure I knew it was a Piper Super Cub, but at twelve years of age I really didn’t know much. I stood and looked at it for quite some time floating gently on the surface of the rain-splattered lake. I’m sure it was quite a few minutes before I worked up the courage to climb up into the pilot’s seat. I vividly remember sitting there looking out over the instrument panel and dreaming this plane was mine…that one day I would have a plane just like this of my own. I remember the feel of the cold metal of the control stick; I remember the sweet smell of the mixing of metal, wood, fabric, oil and fuel. These are the same smells I still associate with old airplanes. I needed to cut this journey of mine short though. You see, I didn’t ask for permission to climb into that plane. Although I’m sure Randy wouldn’t have minded, I still knew enough to know I was supposed to ask and what I was doing was wrong. So with this in mind, I was sitting there no more than five minutes, probably much less, when I hurriedly jumped back down onto the dock…looked back at the green Super Cub and walked away. I had a feeling in that seat. A feeling I couldn’t put words to if I wanted to, but it left an impression on me that has NEVER left.
I fondly think of this memory from time to time but mostly when I’m on some pond in the woods, right as I settle down into the seat and peer over that very same panel, and out that very same windscreen. I knew I would have a Super Cub one day…I just never dreamed it would be the exact one from my childhood. Now when I push that starter button I can hear my Grandfather and Randy’s voices in that cockpit as clearly as I did those thirty-five years ago. I’m sure they are looking down on me and smiling. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if they even knew back in 1982 that I’d climbed into that seat. One thing is for sure though, I know that I owe them both so much…and I’m still trying to repay them.