Friday, February 15, 2013
When I first started paragliding, I fantasized constantly about what it would be like to be able to see the wind -- to see thermals and heat signatures and ridge lift and venturis and rotors clearly defined, etched out against the landscape like a living ice sculpture, flirtatiously obvious and beckoning.
The wind tunnel has invited that same fantasy to set up residence in my musings. As I watch others fly, I imagine a ghostly watercolor of wind twisting around them.
Scooting out into the middle of the tunnel for rookie head-down coaching feels a bit like offering oneself up for execution: you shuffle to the center of the glassed-in space, hands clasped to the sternum, and drop to your knees at the feet of your coach. Once there, kneeling before a crowd of eyes, you slide your hands to grasp the wires beneath you and fold into a reverent-seeming bow. The trick is to slide your head down with the quick smoothness of a practiced penitent, lest you let the wind find your chest and throw you wildly akimbo. The first few times I did it, it seemed pageantish and ridiculous. Now, it's utterly normal.
My head anchored firmly beneath me, I let the wind capture my legs and invert my body. I feel my hair licking my neck with the undulating insistence of a flame; feel my coach's hand between the very end of my gloved fingers, as though he's pulling me to the dance floor of a baroque ballroom.
I used to stay there for a while, letting myself overthink it. I would stare into my coach's chest in a wonky-legged, hovering savasana, feeling the small bones of his fingers as the wind capered kittenishly around my legs. Lately, I've been spending less and less time locked secure in that embrace, poised like one of two figures on a playing card. Instead, I let my coach's fingers slip from mine; let the wind lock me into its rippling tractor beam; let myself be forced to fly.
Most of the time, especially at the start, it was very, very hard to let those fingers go.
I'd be distracted by the engulfing sensation of the wind, its multitude of invisible ribbons wrapping my body in an ever-shifting garment, pressing teasingly into the backs of my thighs, spanking fabric against the tender skin at my waist and the insides of my arms with brutal little slaps. Every adjustment seemed to send me careening at the faces watching me from behind the windowed walls and I'd sink to the wires at the bottom of the tunnel, on my back, rolled fetal and stunned, feeling bruises bloom under my clothes.
Now, even though I struggle, there are moments of illuminating delight.
I've flown head-down by myself before, but it always seemed as though I were muscling myself bodily against a bullying foe, doomed to be quickly crumpled in the fist of my own grunting determination and thrown against the wall. Yesterday, it was not so. As I broke that tenuous connection of fingers, I felt the wind like a strong current in deep water, somber and unfightable, the subtle shifts in its pressure suddenly sweet. My spine somehow discovered where to be; my hands drifted out, quiet and questing, and I felt the wind cut in to the accustomed topsy-turvy waltz with my coach, slipping between my fingers as it danced me away. For a few long moments I stayed there, my toes feeling the edges of my little movements forwards and back, an ebullient smile pressing the apples of my cheeks into the pads of my helmet.
Even when I tumbled out, the smile stayed.