Nathan

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.✈️

Nathan

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!

Matinicus

Matinicus Runway 36

Looking to the north and back towards the mainland at Matinicus’s airstrip

With the wind aggressively buffeting the plane, I sit here in the pilot’s seat contemplating my choices in life as I taxi the heavy Cessna 206 down the dirt/gravel airstrip on Matinicus.  The end of the runway, where it meets the sea, is just ahead and it is where I will turn around and takeoff uphill towards trees and the barn…but more importantly–into the wind.  To be more precise about my wandering mind, I’m contemplating my immediate decision to take off uphill and over the obstacles in this heavy plane; but with the strong, gusty southwesterly wind this is undoubtedly the better choice in my humble opinion.  As I glance around the full airplane I can see all of my passengers are lost in their thoughts also.  Being year round inhabitants of this tiny island community they are seasoned passengers and this is something they do all the time knowing we pilots will do everything within our power to make their flight as safe as possible.

Matinicus is an island approximately seventeen miles off the coast of Maine in the Atlantic Ocean.  Affectionately known as “Mat” to those of us that work in our small charter outfit, it is not a large island and measures two miles in length by one mile in width.  It is said to be the furthest offshore island on the east coast that is inhabited year round and is served by a thriving fishing community, schoolhouse, post office, airstrip and church; in addition to the homes of its relatively few inhabitants.

At somewhere just shy of 1,700 feet (1,668.5 feet to be exact) the airstrip is quite long compared to some of our strips on other islands, but Mat has its quirks as most of our airstrips do; there is a significant hill to take into consideration when landing and taking off which is very important given that often our planes are heavily loaded when arriving and departing.  More importantly there are the persistent crosswinds to consider, Matinicus is known for some hellacious winds which like to blow directly across the strip–and the passengers know these can make for some interesting landings.  Given that Mat is an island, the wind can really get to blowing out here and with nothing to slow it down a pilot trying to land can really be in for an interesting ride trying to get the craft safely on the ground.  I would be remiss if I did not mention the notorious barn at the south end of the runway.  Taking off uphill (or landing downhill for that matter) there is a barn to contend with…it has a way of looking like it’s going to reach up and snag the planes landing gear as we pass by because often times we barely clear it!  To a pilot unaccustomed to flying into this strip the barn can be an intimidating structure ready to strike the fragile plane from the sky…but after a few times you learn there are more important risks to consider, and the barn becomes a nonissue most days.

With the tough old Cessna heavily loaded I obviously prefer to depart downhill to the north because as you can see in the accompanying photo there are no obstructions at the end of the strip, nor are there any obstructions all the way to the mainland for that matter.  I’ve often said as long as I could clear the foot high berm at the end of the runway I could fly all the way back to our home base at Owls Head in ground effect–within feet of sea level!  One of our pilots jokingly says he prefers to have the tide  out because it buys him another fifteen or more feet of clearance…enough to take another lucky passenger when weight is a factor!

Either way, the time has come to focus on what I’m getting paid to do, and the plane is turned around facing uphill towards the barn.  I smoothly but forcefully push the throttle fully in giving us the maximum power available and the best possible chance of a successful take off.  The plane accelerates nicely but noticeably slower than when she is not weighted down so heavily.  Regardless the plane is at the speed I would like and off the runway by my previously picked go, no-go point marked by light posts on the side of the runway.  I allow the plane to fly down low in ground effect and accelerate even more than normal to account for the large gusts today and we sail comfortably over the barn without issue.  My trusty steed makes me look good by allowing me to appear as conqueror of the turbulent air, when I actually know it’s mother nature that has once again given me a pass and allowed me access to her realm in the sky.  Being the first flight of the day I know I will be doing this dozens of times today at this airstrip and other strips with their own unique challenges.  How much longer my contract with mother nature continues to stand is anyone’s guess, but I’m hoping it’s for many more years, takeoffs and landings.