Friday, March 23, 2012
The clouds have been gathering for hours before we careen up the dirt road to the Sedgefield launch. Looking out onto the ocean from the ridge, the multitude of clouds casts a shifting reflection on the silver sea, the late-afternoon sun warming the whites to a pale buttercream.
The sock, steadfast and orange, snaps to oscillating attention, pointing insistently across the grass.
No one else hangs in the air, nor is anyone waiting on the ground. The carpark is eerily empty, devoid of dogs and backpacks scattered in the sun; of nervous families fussing with the children as they wait wearily for a tandem passenger, whooping giddily from somewhere along the treeline; of helmet-headed pilots, moving their Santa-sacks of nylon to and from the shade.
There's only the thwap-thwap of the sock; the sussurus of the wind pushing up and over the wooded ridge; the snap of my fingernail between my teeth.
The clouds, dense and clotted-grey, knead themselves along the glass ceiling of cloudbase. Shafts of sunlight split the velvety canopy for long moments, throwing the trees into crisp relief before disappearing.
I decide: I'm gonna fly.
I apply my gear with great ceremony, giving each buckle a solid tug before shimmying back into the harness. The straps, once hopelessly awkward, settle easily onto the slopes of my collarbones; over the soft rise of my chest; across my breathing belly; along the same line of thigh that a lover's hand nestles. The toggles in my palms, I buck the glider into a firm and heaving wall, letting it gather breath before slipping it into the airflow over my head.
Before I know it, I'm bouyed into a dancing mass of bubbling thermals, sweeping me swiftly towards the patchy afternoon sun. Delighted, I bounce through the jostling crowd, spinning handily up and down; leaning so far out of the soft side of the harness that I seem to be drawn bodily up into heaven, trees retreating dizzily into a green featureless carpet, a heathen version of the Rapture with bare feet crossed at the ankles and a breathy Portishead soundtrack pumping in my ears.
I spin, and dive, and dolphin, and whip wide wingovers over the fields far below. I buck and deflate and reinflate and rattle in my high-suspended seat. I whoop and holler and sing.
At some point, I notice the other pilots crowding the carpark. I smile, knowing we brought them here.
One thing is clear: I'm a different pilot today than I have ever been.