Flying. It’s the ultimate symbol of freedom and peace. And I don’t mean the close-to-the-ground flapping of a robin, and certainly not the perpetual-motion-wings-a-blur of a humming bird. No. I’m picturing an eagle soaring high above it all or a hawk gliding on an air current.
Do you ever dream of flying? I dream of it every so often—although my flying dreams tend to be more robin than eagle. I see myself standing on a hillside, always a hillside. Suddenly I remember I can fly. I pump my arms just right and, lo and behold, my body lifts a few feet off the ground and I’m flying. It doesn’t last long. My aspirations are decidedly modest.
During my waking hours, all I have to do is buy a ticket and I can fly to almost any spot on earth. From the window seat on the airplane, I can watch a setting or rising sun over the ocean; view crop patterns and unruly rivers; enjoy an aerial view of Seattle, all curvy green and blue, sparkly white mountains on either side.
My view from the airplane is fantastic, but it can’t compare to those flying dreams. Strapped into a barely big enough seat, competing for elbow room with a hairy-armed fellow passenger, I don’t exactly feel peaceful and free. Besides, the air inside the airplane is stale—all filtered and recycled.
Our hot air balloon ride.
The year of our twentieth anniversary, and my husband and I decided we wanted to do something special. So we signed up for a hot air balloon ride, complete with a champagne brunch.
At daybreak on a clear June day, we drove to Harvey Field in Snohomish, WA, to meet our balloon pilot. And no, we didn’t take off from the runway. We piled into his van along with our four fellow passengers and drove to a nearby launch site where our balloon was waiting.
I must have been expecting the balloon to be all puffed up and ready so we could step into the basket and float away. But no. First it had to be spread out on the ground and then held just right so hot air could be blown into it. My husband and the three other men rushed over to help while Gigi and I stood back and watched.
As soon as Gigi’s three male friends had demonstrated their strength and competence, they came back to her, gathering around the attractive, personable brunette like bears to honey. In her tight pants, black and white striped shirt and jaunty beret, Gigi had no trouble keeping their attention for the rest of the morning.
Floating eagle-high over green fields and a winding river, the first thing I noticed was the absence of a breeze. Of course! We were in the breeze, on it, existing in union with it. I don’t remember ever before or since experiencing such a peaceful, almost weightless sensation.
But ballooning is not all peaceful floating. First you have to get off the ground, which requires—duh!—hot air. And the heater and fan in the center of the basket is NOISY. Oh, my gosh! I thought, resisting the urge to plug my ears as we rose, heater screaming, above the trees. Why wasn’t I expecting this? But then, when we reached our cruising altitude and the pilot turned the heater off, silence enveloped us and we were at peace … until we needed more hot air.
Our ride lasted a little more than an hour, the heater turning on or off every five or ten minutes. The experience was breathtaking, more like dream-flying that airplane-flying. Being in the open air feels personal, as though the world belongs to you.
As we descended and prepared to land, the air currents must have shifted. Dipping low over the river, (a small river) the pilot tried not to sound worried. We came close to some trees and landed in a cow pasture. Our intended landing spot was a few miles hence, so we had to wait for the van.
Just as well. The balloon had to be deflated and folded. Once again the passengers pitched in. It was all part of the experience—for the men at least. After the vans arrived, the balloon was loaded up, and we drove back to the starting point for our champagne brunch.
It’s been many years since my late husband and I “flew” over the fields in a hot air balloon. It’s an experience I’ll never forget.
Unfortunately, I can’t find the photos from that day. These are from The Great Prosser Balloon Rally, an event my daughter and I attended in 2011. They have a rally in Prosser, WA, every year on the last weekend in September. Tomorrow (September 28) is the last day.
The company that took my husband and me flying is Airial Balloon Company. You can see some photos on this link.