I stand here watching my son play on the beach, enjoying the water and sand…chasing frogs and ducks. I can’t help but flash back 45 years to memories of me playing on this same beach enjoying the water and sand…chasing the great grandparents of those same frogs and ducks. Some of the memories are hazy and come in very short clips lasting only a few seconds but a few of those memories are still quite vivid although still of a very short duration. No matter, I was only five so it’s a wonder I remember much of it at all.
But I do.
I have never forgotten the memories of those seaplanes, mainly Cessna 180’s at the time, coming and going seemingly nonstop all day long. There’s not a doubt in my mind that this was building the foundation for a love affair with the sky—an affair that would span decades and not dwindle in intensity but grow ever stronger as the years pass. I still see those red and white, and blue and white Cessna’s idling slowly away from the dock, then powering up to an ear splitting roar as they struggled to break free of the water’s grasp and climb grudgingly into the warm afternoon air—whisking the plane’s occupants to destinations throughout the north Maine woods and adventures that seemed unfathomable to a child’s mind.
These days I find myself behind the controls of a Cessna 206 idling off that very same dock, looking at those children’s faces on the beach watching my seaplane leave for those same adventures—and they ARE adventures. I can’t help but think of what they must be seeing, what it looks like through their eyes and what they’re thinking as I ease the throttle forward. I always take the time to smile and wave, and they ALWAYS smile and wave back. It warms my heart beyond words.
So as I pull away from the dock minutes after this photo was taken, I look over at my son standing knee deep in the water watching me depart and smile; is his imagination working the magic as mine did all those years ago? I believe so. Whether he flys planes, fights fires, drives heavy equipment, or writes books…it makes no difference. The point is to introduce him to the things during the formative years of his lifetime that help create the positive memories that could ultimately lead to a strong foundation for his hopes and dreams.
I sometimes wonder if those individuals that helped develop and guide me know just how thankful I am for them taking the time? Well I’m sure they do, but I’m going to ensure they do and honor them by paying it forward.
I give Nathan one last glance as I turn the plane towards open water…keep smiling son, rest assured I will devote my life to ensure you have the best chance possible at a long and joy filled life.✈️
As I gradually bank to the left around the ridge, the eastern end of Harrington Lake disappears below the nose of the plane and Harrington Pond comes into view straight ahead. I know from exploring this area for decades that McKenna Pond is just a few hundred yards beyond Harrington and that Slaughter pond is about that distance beyond McKenna. Of course it is mid-March and all these bodies of water are ice and snow covered so the 3-D Technicolor movie playing outside my Super Cub’s windows consists mostly of blue, white, black and grey. The sky is a cobalt blue hue with the majestic mountain we know as Katahdin contrasting against it with its white snow and black and grey rocks making up most of the backdrop. Separating the numerous small ponds and larger lakes in view beyond my Plexiglas windows are the blacks and grays of the spruce, fir, and pine that define the northern forests of the Maine woods. Although the Squaw’s Bosom towers over Slaughter Pond on its northern perimeter, it looks very drab compared to its extraordinary fall splendor—the Bosom is covered with hardwoods and glows in a multitude of colors in mid autumn unlike its dreary appearance now
As Slaughter comes into view I fly by a few hundred feet above its frozen surface looking at my intended landing area for any slush, pressure ridges, or other irregularities that could cause an issue for my landing. Forgive my crassness but there is a phenomenon that I have to explain to you that is probably not all that scientific but is quite real nonetheless. You may have fallen under its spell yourself and quite possibly on more than one occasion. I’m not a big fan of the higher math per say (nothing against it—I’m just not that good at it!), but this formula I will present to you is actually quite simple and I think it explains the “issue” quite well so here it is: If one has to go to the bathroom with any sort of urgency, the closer one gets to the proposed “discharge” site, the more powerful the urge becomes to go. If some astute mathematician was able to put this theory into a mathematical formula I think we would see it’s not a linear urge, it’s most definitely exponential—to the point where the final few seconds can be quite comical for observers and certainly dramatic for the subject!
Well I don’t want to turn away any readers by going into the details of this process but let me bring to your attention it is very difficult to concentrate as the final minutes or seconds pass and yet I still have to land this airplane on the ice, egress and shed a layer or two before I can…ahem…relieve the urge. And this brings me to the reason for seeking out Slaughter Pond, a necessary rest-stop on my journey home from up north, with a wonderful byproduct of its picturesque location and the late afternoon sun making for some beautiful photos once the “pressure” is off!
I pull the carburetor heat on and retard the throttle to 1400 rpm or so while letting the Cub slow, allowing me to pull on two notches of flaps and start a steep left turn towards the north then west before pulling on the final notch of flaps and slowing the graceful machine for landing. As I level the wings and arrest the descent mere feet above the surface I finally close the throttle completely after clearing some large rocks protruding above the icy surface and settle smoothly on the cold surface of a great fly fishing pond during warmer times. The plane slowly comes to a stop a couple hundred yards after touching down and I reach up and pull the mixture knob out robbing the engine of fuel and eventually causing it to quit bringing the propeller to an abrupt stop. The urge is strong and the race is on, if this plane was on fire I don’t think I could extricate myself any faster.
It’s quiet as I quickly step off the Green Machine’s ski onto the frozen pond, all I can hear is the steady “tick, tick, tick” of the quickly cooling engine that has been running smoothly for over an hour since leaving Libby’s Sporting Camps via the Ghost Trains. I have to remind myself that for many folks landing an airplane on a frozen pond with no one around for miles is a unique and novel concept…just stepping out onto this frozen surface would be alien enough. However, I grew up in this area doing exactly this since childhood so although it’s beautiful, serene, and never taken for granted—this experience alone is not as magical as it sometimes can be. Being careful not to slip I walk abruptly but carefully a short distance away and complete the first part of my reason for landing at this remote location. Having finally finished this task, I walk back over to the Cub and start putting the Nikon together on the back seat to finish the second part of my reason for landing, capturing the moment to relive it later and share with others. As I walk away from the green Super Cub and turn to frame the plane against Katahdin for a photo, I make sure to zoom in slightly to avoid any remote chance some sharp viewer may notice the slight discoloration on the ice and snow barely a wingspan away. No sense distracting someone’s view of the beauty before me with the evidence of my real reason for this stop-over. Look up dear reader, there is nothing important to see on the ice slightly out of the frame on the left of the photo!
Darkness comes early here in Maine in late October; and it comes much earlier when the sky is nearly covered in dark, “wintry” looking clouds blocking the little bit of light given off by the setting sun. My long-time friend, Jeff, joined me on this late afternoon excursion, an early evening mission to take some photos of the pride of Maine–Baxter State Park and more specifically, Mount Katahdin. I had recently taken some pictures of the mountain for a friend and she was quite happy with the photos, very happy actually. Well those photos were pretty good but they were taken during the day and without this new snow cover on the mountain, so I figured the semi-darkness and early season snowfall would make the photos even more alluring. Of course time was running out, with every passing minute the light was fading fast. Normally this would not be much of an issue but this evening I was flying the Green Machine, a 1952 Piper Super Cub on floats, and landing a floatplane on the water after dark is not something I really wanted to do today (or ever) so Jeff and I were in a bit of a hurry to get the plane ready and get airborne.
Despite our best efforts we did not get off the water and into the cold October air until quite a bit later than we had originally intended. So be it. This sortie was still a “Go” and I knew I could abort in the air and make best speed back to my home base at Smith Pond if it looked like we could not complete the flight. Did I tell you that this whole mission was conceived in seconds as a last minute hail Mary flight to see if we could even get these pictures before dark? Originally we had no intention of flying this evening, but when I realized the opportunity that was going to be presented, given the lighting and new snow, I just had to give it my best shot. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve screwed something up, broken something, or gotten into some trouble when I do things at the last minute with minimal planning–but what’s the fun in being predictable? Impetuous was going to be the word of the day.
For those of you that have flown before, even on a commercial flight, you may have noticed it can be raining, dark and gloomy while you’re boarding the plane and taking off, but when the plane finally claws it’s way up through the murky cloud cover and breaks out on top, it is bright and sunny as if it was an entirely different world. In fact, it looks so completely different than it did just minutes prior, you’d think it was a whole new day or location! Today was no different and climbing up out of the icy darkness of the few holes left in the sky, the warm sunset to the west beckons me to climb higher and higher. It’s call is like a siren calling an ancient mariner towards the dangerous rocks, only this evening it is calling me as if I’m the ancient mariner, and the dangerous rocks are the mountain in front of me jutting out of the wispy clouds. The draw is subtle yet strong, and I have to be back on the water before darkness…
It was quite cool outside this evening while preparing the plane, it would be called cold my many. Regardless, whatever one would call the temperature, it was certainly colder a mile high in the crisp fall air flying northward towards the mountain called Katahdin. Mount Katahdin is the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail and a great way to end that nearly 2,200 mile trek. The mountain stands out prominently in northern Maine with it’s rocky slopes climbing well above the treeline and its enormous cirque named the Great Basin, carved by glaciers during the last ice age, leaving hikers standing speechless and awe of the magnificent vistas. The views from the air are no less captivating and my copilot in the backseat was pretty quiet–he too was probably as spellbound with the scene before us as I was.
No time to sit back and fully enjoy the view this evening though, we knew time was a commodity that was running out and we had to act fast if we wanted to be successful and get home safely. As beautiful as the clouds were from above, they were ominous and dark from underneath–certainly treacherous for my little Cub while climbing and descending through them. The sun appeared to be dropping faster and faster so we took the pictures we could quickly and rushed back down into a rapidly closing hole in the clouds back into the mountains. Although the hole in the clouds looked fairly large for the plane to safely traverse from above, it looked smaller and more menacing as we grew closer. I could not help but notice the hole was changing too, the winds, which were invisible except for their movement of the clouds around the rocky ledges of the mountain, were constantly changing the shape of the hole and making it a moving target for my passenger and I. These holes are called “sucker holes” for a reason and rest assured this was weighing on my mind as we descended into the darkness below.
I never actually entered the clouds, I managed to stay in a tight turn inside of the rapidly changing hole and I was continually conscious of the safest direction to fly if we should inadvertently enter the clouds–East, away from the rocky slopes of the mountains. Once safely below the clouds I began to realize just how dark it had become in the short time we were above the clouds, and although we managed to safely keep ourselves from hitting anything in the rock strewn clouds, we high-tailed it the short distance back to our home base to an equally dangerous glassy water landing in the semi-darkness. It was important to keep our guard up during this critical phase of our flight, it is far too easy at times to relax after a stressful flight and have a mishap on landing or during the approach. Alas, this was not the case this October day, and a beautiful evening landing on some glassy water was what greeted Jeff and I.
We had cheated the flying gods again, and while doing so gained some beautiful photos–mission accomplished.