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The Bluepenciler

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Fly Away

Ever wondered what it would feel like to be a bird soaring high over the mountains?

I haven’t.

That’s because I get a little whoozy when my feet leave the security of good ole Mother Earth. There’s something about being suspended in midair with nothing more than a pane of glass and a bit of thin, steel fabric between me and several thousand vertical feet that unsettles me. Gravity is a powerful force and I hate to cheat it, because you can’t. Sooner or later gravity requires all solid objects to descend back to earth. “What goes up must come down, spinning wheels got to go round.” I don’t remember who sang those words, but I know they are true. On earth the law of gravity prevails.

It’s safer simply not leaving the ground in the first place.

However, that slight trepidation about being airborne did not keep me from flying with a fine, young pilot named Jeremiah one fine, sunny, windy, bumpy, tummy-tossing day in mid-August.  I’m here to tell you it was a heckuva ride, despite the need to empty the contents of my stomach on the Sandpoint Airport grounds afterwards.

We met early in the hopes of beating the turbulence we knew would buffet the atmosphere later in the day. At 7:00 a.m. Jeremiah told me to load up in the little Cessna parked on the tarmac and I instantly began searching for the vent that would help cool my twitching nerves as we climbed into the sky. Jeremiah had done his pre-flight checks, played with all the various knobs and levers and switches on the control panel and turned the ignition key.

He did it all again and turned the ignition key.

He did it all again and turned the ignition key.

Ten minutes later he did it all for the umpteenth time, turned the ignition key then said, “I’ve never had trouble starting this plane before.”

I was already in need of the fresh air that should’ve been pouring through the vent and we weren’t even off the ground.

No movement, no air. I wasn’t sure whether I should be elated or disappointed when he suggested we get together at 9:00 and try again. Our destinations included the Scotchman Peaks and the massif of the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness and I really wanted to fly so I could see all that country from the air, like a bird. But with the stubbornness of the airplane fresh on my mind, my wings were a bit limp. And my nerves began twitching all over again because of the stiff breeze sweeping across the asphalt.

Sure enough, though, we loaded into the Cessna once more a couple hours later; Jeremiah played with all the various knobs and levers and switches on the control panel, turned the ignition key and the engine roared to life.

I wanted to burst into song, “Off we go into the wild blue yonder,” but wind gusts shaking the small plane drowned out my attempts.

We rose high above Sandpoint and the lake and were about eye level with Schweitzer when the first burst of turbulence swatted the side of the plane. Jeremiah actually laughed out loud while terror took hold of every fiber of my being. “That was a good one,” he remarked into his headset.  I noticed the maniacal twinkle in his eyes and wondered what on earth - no, what above earth - I had gotten myself into!

Moments later, as we cruised up Grouse Creek toward Calder Mountain, the ride actually smoothed out and the twisted knot in the pit of my stomach relaxed just enough for me to catch my breath. We had been in the air probably ten minutes and I’m not sure I had yet breathed.

Over the spectacular landscape of Boulder Mountain, Star Mountain and Callahan Creek we flew, headed for the north end of the Bull Lake valley. I craned my neck in order to take in as much of the view as possible and I marveled at the immensity of the our part of the world.

Suffice it to say that Mercury or Zeus or Pleiades or some other mythic deity chose to stir the pot again and the clash of wind and heat and mountains made that tiny little plane dance, with us inside. Jeremiah was immune. I asked that we head back for terra firma. But not before we checked out Spar Lake, the Scotchmans and the magnificent Hope Face along the northeast shore of Pend Oreille’s glittering deck.

An old gospel tune goes, “Some glad morning when this life is o’er I’ll fly away…”. Well, it sure was a grand adventure flying with Jeremiah over that piece of heaven we call the Cabinet Mountains, but when my day comes to truly go to heaven, I hope no one minds if I hike there.

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Author info

Dennis Nicholls Dennis Nicholls was the founder, publisher, janitor and paperboy of the River Journal from 1993 to 2001. He passed away in 2009.

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