Saturday, February 25, 2012

rough seas

I fought the battle of Sedgefield, and Sedgefield won.

Punchy, capricious conditions make me hopelessly awkward on launch; it takes me six or seven tries to get the glider over my head and, when I do, it feels so miraculous that I'm dumbstruck for the first few moments of flight.

As soon as I begin to slide along the forested ridge, I'm cutting through thermals so sharp they feel like air-gun blasts aimed haphazardly from the ground below. My heart in my throat, I keep pressure on the glider, doggedly willing my head back into the customary position. It fights me, creeping up between the risers.

Moment by moment, I struggle to relax as my twitching glider rings me like a bell in the harness. I hear small collapses crinkle the sides of the wing, waiting sickly for the moment until there's a crisp snap as the airfoil reinflates. Albatross tandems swoop across my path. Occasional gusts shove me too close for comfort to the toothy line of trees that runs across the top of the ridge. Struggling to keep my head, I talk to myself. Hum. Sing a little bit: African Sky BlueTake It EasyAcross the Universe. Breathe loudly through the nose, focusing on the texture of the air as it traces a long curve over the back of my throat.

No dice. The conditions are unrelenting, and my heart has worked its way up from my throat to my mouth.

Defeated, I point my glider out from the ridge. A series of explosive thermals keeps me up longer than I anticipated, but it gives me ample time to choose a landing area from the options on offer. Cruising in on final, ground effect cruelly pops me up again five or six times before finally allowing me to settle to the ground.

As I start to gather my lines, I see that my hands are shaking.

On the ride back, I ponder the validity of my sense of defeat. I think about how difficult it was to launch in those conditions (when the immense disquietude of the air had already been explained to me) and to be dragged around the topside at least once -- in front of a crowd -- with a biffed launch.


There's only one way forward: do the hardest thing, over and over, with a smile -- and soon, the smile will be real.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

I'm back.

The sensation is so raw that it makes my blood sting the hollows of my veins.

I'm watching my face reflected in the enormous panel of glass that separates this living room from the coastal forest spread out below. The early-morning sea throws handfuls of foam at the shore. My paraglider is waiting expectantly for the day to begin.

The last time I was on this continent, I never budged from overdrive. Everything was new; everything was at once terrifying and bones-on-fire sweet. I found a new life here without even looking for it, and every moment burned another bridge to the life I'd had before.

It's different now.

It's better.

I knew it would be; there was no replicating that first few months in the bower of southern Africa. That moment was pinned to the change it engendered, and that change was so complete and universal that it seems now to be someone else's story.

This time, I still take enormous pleasure in sitting silently in a restaurant, reveling in the earthy sensuousness of Afrikaans' earthy rasps and trilling r's. I still check the gas gauge before driving through townships. I still find myself marveling at the salty practicality of the wheat-haired descendants of the first pioneers, their offhand economy of expression a Rubik's cube in my hands. And I will never, never tire of the expanse of mama Africa under my feet, always tempting me onward with the promise of another heartstring plucked.