Monday, November 30, 2009

The Pioneer Valley at 1500 feet

The Quabbin Resevoir, or part of it. It's massive.

This is Fitzgerald Lake, about a mile through conservation land from our home, which is right under the plane.

The flight crew -- David Cohen -- with the three of us, and his wonderful little plane, after the journey.

So Lily had a birthday in November and our wonderful neighbors gave her -- and me and Dave -- a ride in their plane. Well, just David, as there are just four seats. We planned on the Sunday after Thanksgiving and hoped the weather would cooperate. Indeed! It was clear, sunny, and the 25-mile-an-hour winds of the day before had totally died down. We were on!

David picked us up at 8:30 yesterday morning and we drove a couple of miles to the tiny Northampton airport. One of the things I loved right away was how by the book and safety conscious he is about flying. Being 2,000 feet give or take 500 above the surface of the earth is unsettling at best, at least for me.

I have to back up. David and Doris had dropped off an official-looking manila envelope a few weeks ago, complete with an award letter -- good for whoever is celebrating their 11th birthday on Marian Street! -- bar codes and a boarding pass. I casually handed it over to Lily when I picked it up that day, saying, this came for you, and she opened it and her eyes got really big. She said, with wonderment, Mama, I think I won something!

She was thrilled. She said, if David is flying do you think I can go into the cockpit? And when we drove up the the airport yesterday she said, I hope we get on the plane from the outside! It took Dave and David a second to realize what she meant, and then someone said, oh, you mean instead of the ramp? yes, we get on from the outside.

We pulled up in front of a long building with doors on it that looked like a metal warehouse. David parked and said, we're leaving from Gate 27B. And we found Door 27 and went inside. And there was a plane! A cute little yellow and white Bonanza, apparently the Lexus of its time. He flipped a switch and the entire door opened like a gigantic garage, and there we were, ready to head out.

Well, not quite. First he had an extensive check-list of things to go over, headsets to install, cushions to position. He checked the flaps and the gas in both wings and who knows what else, although he told us all about it as he made his way. He's recently retired as a professor and you can see he must have been a great one. Man loves his plane.

Eventually he hooked up a gizmo that pulled the plane out of the garage and we all got in. We spent some time adjusting seats and seatbelts and getting comfy. Then he taxied to the edge of the single runway and again, checked out all kinds of things.

Then it was time. He let us know in a kind way that we couldn't talk until we were at cruising speed, about 1500 feet. Then, we were off!

And it was so simple and free and also unbelievable. Dave and I were in the back seat and we kept looking at each other and miming elation, and "oh my god!" and "Wahoo!" Then we could talk, and we tried to enthuse and emote so he knew we were thrilled.

We flew from 1500 to 2500 feet, first over Northampton and our house, then across to UMass and the Quabbin, then south over Westover AFB and Springfield. We made our back up west of the Holyoke Range, and I could really see so much more of that curvaceous spine of mountains. Back over Northampton and we were landing and home, overjoyed, a bit nauseous the three of us, and speaking for myself, eager to go again. I think Dave should get his pilot's license, although David said, why not you? Not sure I'm up for it, but I sure am up for being a pilot's wife.

Small town Northampton hit us again when we saw our neighbor Alan as we filled up the gas tanks. That will never cease to amaze us, I think. We were home by 10:30, and somehow starving and thirsty. What a trip!

And how can I describe it? David said a couple of times, we live in a three-dimensional world, and at first I didn't get it -- don't I know that already? -- and then I did in a way I can't explain. I can only imagine what the astronauts feel, but being just 2500 feet above the earth gave me a perspective, a sense of the vastness of our Valley that hadn't registered before. We were so much higher than the mountains! A thousand feet-plus higher than Skinner and Tom. We could see forever, and there was something in me that wanted to go even further.

And yet, it was enough. I didn't have to see more--I didn't want to. Maybe because my stomach was churning and I was a bit anxious, despite how safe David had made me feel. Maybe because I felt too small, too insignificant, in a disturbing way. It certainly was disorienting and it felt great to be back on solid land.

I am now in love with the river, as well as the mountains. I thought, now I need to find someone with a boat to take us on the Connecticut River! I've seen maps and videos but still had no idea how much the river twists and turns, how much it bends. If I remember high school geology correctly that means it's a very old river. It has many islands and lots of peninsulas, including vast fields in Hadley that stick way out into the water. I had no idea.

Overall it was wonderful and a bit overwhelming and really an incredible experience. We're really lucky over here on Marian Street!


  1. Wow. I'm intensely jealous that a) I don't have a plane, esp that would allow me to give such an incredible gift, b) I don't have a generous neighbor with a plane. Did it hit you how green it was, too? The one time I had this feeling was coming back from Italy 13 years ago. We flew very low (for a commercial airline) over Long Island and we finally oriented ourselves to recognize where we were -- down to seeing my parents' home. It was so familiar and so confusing at the same time. You're right that sense of 3-D and...context. In our mind's eye we give the shapes of our topography context, but it's never as crisply drawn. And this I got from a jumbo plane and a teeny tiny window.... how lucky you all are!

  2. Wasn't green, unfortunately. It's almost winter and while it was beautiful, lush and verdant were not the operative words.

  3. oh, yeah, right... (shuffles feet, clears throat). not too seasonally challenged!


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