Nature Calls

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!

Memories

Late September iPhone 1015

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.

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