Up in the Air

3 Aug
This is the seaplane I rode through the Adirondacks.

The buzz of the plane fills my ears, and it rattles before take-off. I can see the million dollar cottages on the edge of the lake, mingled with the seasonal cabins. The wind blows through the window while Tom, the pilot, turns nobs and switches on the plane’s control panel. We’re skating now across the water, bumping a few times on it, the plane growing louder. I can feel the power pushing forward, willing itself to lift the plane into the air. Then, magically, it does. The bumping ends, and Tom lifts the plane into the air, leaving behind the water now below us. I’m tipped back in seat, glad for the seatbelt even though it doesn’t really hold me back. I’m glad it’s there, if only for the illusion of security. This sea plane doesn’t feel very secure. It’s small. It rattles. There’s something comforting in bigness, something this plane doesn’t offer.

Tom’s shouting now, pointing to lakes on either side of us. “That’s Mount Marcy, that pointy peak up ahead!” he shouts, turning the plane toward it. We hit a draft of wind and bob downward. I feel my stomach drop, like I’m going downhill on a rollercoaster. The plane feels like a toy in the air, so vulnerable, like the wind could crush it in a moment or dash it down to the ground like a fickle child. “You’d be riding these kinds of planes all the time if you went to Alaska,” my mom says, turning to look at me in the seat behind her. She’s right. Except then it wouldn’t be a 20 minute ride, it’d be more like an hour. Storms brew unexpectedly there, taking the passengers and pilot unawares. There the pilot could mistake a mountain for a cloud, smashing into it. Many there do. In Haines, Alaska, where last year I almost applied for a job, the ways to access the place are only through sea planes and ferry. I suppose I would have gotten used to it, as the people there do, the riskiness of transportation: People do whatever they need to do to survive. They’ll make themselves adapt. It doesn’t mean it’s easy, though.

My sister, on my left, looks through the window. I snap a photo of her. She’s quiet—almost silent through the whole ride. She’s so much like me, taking everything in, breathing the experience into her blood and bones, never feeling she needs to speak to make it more real. The world below resembles a map, everything laid out for viewing. I can see the lakes, shrunk into something you can see with just one look, the trees, stretching in endless dark green clusters. It’s all so beautiful up here. And to think, Tom spends his weekends here in the sky, ferrying people through the Adirondack air. Monday morning he’s back in the city.

Suddenly I feel my body revolting against the changing air pressure, the altitude, the up and down motion. I feel sick, nauseous even. It feels like my blood’s going squirrely, my stomach churning. I turn my head from the window I can no longer look through and focus on breaking—in and out in and out—like they teach in birthing classes. “I cannot throw up on Tom’s plane” I think. The beauty fades, Tom’s descriptions of the mountains fades, even my family on either side of me fade, and all I want to do is be back on the ground. Ten minutes later—what seems an eternity—we hit the water once again, and I hear motor boats buzzing passed. The plane door creaks open, and Tom helps me onto the wooden dock, where the next passengers wait. They look at my face for clues as to how it was, but unfortunately I know it only registers illness. After awhile, the feeling leaves for good, my body evening itself back out to normal. Whenever I look at trees now, I picture them from above.

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One Response to “Up in the Air”

  1. Grayquill August 4, 2011 at 3:35 am #

    I had a helicopter ride once that scared me good. But, that is only becuase the pilot was my uncle and was getting a bit to much satisfaction raising my heart rate. A sea plane sounds fun but yes, a bigger plane would probably feel more secure.

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