Memories: Clouds & Dreams

Spring Green Clouds

Lightning. A passing thought. The awakening of memory.

I’m five, maybe six years old, sitting in the front seat of my dad’s Bonanza. Right seat. The single, swing-over yoke is in front of him, his hands playing lightly over the off-white plastic ‘wheel’ while I look out the window at fields and lakes passing by far below.

A summer day. North Texas. Hot outside, even hotter inside the small cabin. Tiny brushed aluminum nozzles let the outside air in, but it’s hot too, too hot to stop the beads of sweat forming on my forehead. His too, I can see. There’s no air conditioning, just the warm air hissing from those nozzles over my perspiration.

“Little bit hot up here, isn’t it?” I suppose he said just about then. “What say we cool off some?”

He turns the wheel and aims right at a boiling white cloud, and I don’t know whether to be scared or not. The things looks like snow covered mountains up here between them, but to a kid in kindergarten clouds are still pretty mysterious creatures. One minute you see a shape that looks a little like a whale, and the next it’s an elephant’s head.

Water vapor?

Ice crystals?

Seriously?

The cloud grows ahead until there’s nothing but a wall of impenetrable white, and just before we slam into the mountain there’s a little extra turbulence to stir up the butterflies in my gut, then…

…we’re inside the cloud. Our world grows impossibly small and too bright white.

But no, we’re skimming through the top of the cloud, skipping along like a stone crossing a lake. White – blue flashes, then he trims the nose down…

…and now it’s impossibly cool inside the Bonanza…then he dives deeper into the creature, and as suddenly it’s almost blistering cold. My world feels strange, almost weirdly disorienting and there’s a wild grin on his face when I realize I’m hanging from my seatbelt. As in hanging upside down. He holds the roll on the yoke until we level out, and I can feel an unseen hand pushing me down into the seat as he pulls back on the yoke…

It’s gray deep inside that cloud, but a moment later the light is white and pure, blinding pure again – then a shattering blue as we leap from cloud back into to sky…

And still he holds the roll and I turn my head to the ceiling and look down on the sun-dappled prairie through the clouds below, and I watch – fascinated – as the world rotates ahead of us…until the earth and the sky are back where they’re supposed to be…only now we’re zipping along through another canyon…a solid white canyon made of walls of clouds I want to reach out and touch.

And I remember my father whistling. That little tune John Wayne whistled at the end of The High and The Mighty. Why do I remember that now?

I watched a summer afternoon’s thunderstorm building today, watched the white cumulus  reaching skyward again and I thought of my old man. Of his hands on the yoke, the smile on his face, the joy he shared. We shared. The love of flying he passed on to me.

I guess there are days, when the clouds are ‘just so,’ those memories come for me. All  the clouds we visited over those enchanted skies, all the cooling sweat and the sudden grins that claimed so many days.

So, Dad, we were back at it today, and oh, how I missed you.

4 thoughts on “Memories: Clouds & Dreams

  1. There are few feelings quite like punching holes in clouds.

    If you are going to slip inside a cloud it is best to do it on purpose. It can be quite terrifying when done involuntarily and without the ability to slide gracefully up and back into the sunlight. Outside can be too bright and too hot but inside is the centre of a storm. You can encounter everything from light mist, heavy rain, and hail, to snow with lightning.

    Done leisurely, the serenity of slicing into the edges of a puffy white cloud on a sunny day can exemplify the epitome of tranquillity. When engulfed by a sudden front that extends to the ground and reaches 14-15,000 feet, well above the range of a normally aspirated, non pressurized aircraft, it is best to have icing boots and IFR capabilities.

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    • Back in the 50s such things were still plausibly legal, too! We had a 210 with boots and radar, but that was the only single so equipped. Dad ended up with a 56TC (Baron) – that could fly through hog snot if needed. I did my multi in that one…what a hot rod.

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      • I’ve owned 3 different 210’s, each progressively larger and better equipped. The first was a 65. It reminded me of Ford when they would introduce a new model, each year the car body would get bigger till it no longer resembled the original. The 65 was 4 seats and 2 folding jump seats, what later was reintroduced as a 182 rg. I’ve flown multi but never owned one. My flying today is more likely to be in a Kitfox or a Kodiak. I really need to get back on the water.

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  2. 210s are real workhorses, like the Skywagons only better. I had one that had started out life working with the University of Nebraska Ag Extension. What a beast. Most of my piston time is in Barons and 414/421s, a few Piper Navahos thrown in the mix here and there.
    I’m planning to move Awaken from the east to the west coast, away from all the hurricanes and summer storms. I’m seasick…whatever that means…

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