I was wrong.
I didn't know what "with wings" really meant.
In my mid 50's I'd never had occasion to be in a plane. I pretended that a fear of heights kept me ground based, but I simply hadn't gone anywhere for which air travel was a necessity. (I should note that that fear of heights is real, but that's about putting my foot back onto a ladder while getting off a rooftop.)
Last Christmas I was given a gift certificate for an "introductory flight" at the local small airport. The weeks came and went and for various reason I never got around to redeeming the certificate until a few weekends ago when the weather seemed like it would be ideal, and with the colorful leaves in their prime it just felt like the perfect time to book the flight.
"With wings!" I was like a little kid on Christmas morning as the plane headed down the runway going faster and faster until I could feel the rise and see the ground getting farther away. In just a minute, or so it seemed, we were way up there looking down on the valley that I knew so well for so many years.
At least I thought I knew it. I was certain that once we were in the air I'd recognize every last street and building below us. I was lost in a heartbeat, enjoying the flight tremendously, but having no clue as to where we were.
The pilot headed straight to my neighborhood and there I could pick out familiar landmarks, until I got out the camera. I tried taking pictures of recognizable structures and areas, but with the small camera's zoom in tight I had less an idea of what I was seeing in the viewfinder than I did just looking out the windows. I was reminded of the time Stevie Wonder guest hosted Saturday Night Live and one of the spoof commercials they did was for a camera so intuitive that with it even Stevie could take great pictures. Stevie might have had me beat if he'd been up in the plane with me. None of my pictures were the great ones I'd hoped to get.
After circling the neighborhood where I grew up and lived all of my life we headed over the mountains that form the western wall of the valley. I was totally lost, not recognizing anything at all over which we were flying. It seemed surreal to see what should have been familiar sights appearing as alien landscapes. I might as well have been somewhere in another state or another country. I kept looking this way and then that way trying to grab some perspective that would help make sense of our position, but to little avail. One I lost sight of the Susquehanna River, the feeling of being absolutely lost was complete. All I could do then was to look at the horizon and marvel at the beauty of it all whether or not I recognized it.
When we got to Harvey's Lake which was to be the turning point in our flight I finally saw the land below appearing in familiar form as it did on Google Earth, but in amazing reality rather than on my computer screen. We flew around the lake, and then right over it. I hadn't expected bodies of water to appear as mirrors from a plane's eye view! I grinned like a little kid again as I soaked up the sight of everything down below through eyes of wonder, almost as if I were seeing the earth for the very first time. I suppose in a way, I was.
The ride lasted nearly an hour and went by WAY too fast. We were heading back to the airfield long before I'd hoped we would and it was with a pronounced feeling of disappointment that I saw the runway looming before us and getting closer by the second. The touchdown was as perfect as the flight itself
Everybody who knew I was going up was sure to ask me what I thought of the experience when they saw me afterward. My answer has been the same to every one of them. If I had the resources I'd go up every weekend just to be flown around to see this gift of our planet from the unique perspective afforded from above it.
A young man who was one of my students a long time ago is now a pilot. I often wondered what it was with which he fell in love up there that made him want to earn his wings. Now I know.
If they made scooters with wings, I'd get one!