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Flying

08/09/05 12:00AM By Caleb Daniloff
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(HOST) Commentator Caleb Daniloff recently found that a little distance between you and the earth can put a whole new spin on things.


(DANILOFF) Sometimes life can seem a little stale: the trips to the grocery store, the gas pumps, the commute, the same old beautiful landscape. It's never a bad idea seek a new outlook, to shake up the snow globe now and again.

So the other weekend, my wife and I went flying. Pilot Joe Quesnel met us at the Middlebury Airport. The son of a local cropduster, Joe's been flying since he was 15. Now 30, he runs J&M Aviation in Middlebury. The "J" stands for Joe, the "M" for
his business partner Mike. We liked him right off.

Running my hand along his 1975 single-engine Cessna Skyhawk, I felt everyday assumptions begin to peel away. The value of a plane, for example, appreciates with time. And gas consumption is measured by the hour. Joe stuck a measuring tube into the fuel tank and pulled it out. "Can't always trust gauges," he said.

We took our seats and Joe had me start the plane. The engine coughed and the blades began slicing the air into a circular blur.
I wasn't doing the flying, but in the vibration of that propeller, I felt myself soaring over Lake Champlain, jetting up to Burlington, touching down in Boston.

Flying in a Cessna is different from commercial air travel. You actually feel flight - bobbing on the air, gliding, banking. Not crammed into a silver tube tearing through clouds, waiting for peanuts. In a Cessna, the separation between you and forever is plain. And listening to the thrum of the engine, you can't help but be humbled by the realization of a human dream.

Joe warned us there'd be a few bumps over Mount Abraham, explaining the thermal dynamics of various air masses - but summed it up this way: "Every bump has a bottom. It's not like you fall forever." I instantly felt better. About life, too. Joe was good.

Mount Abe's stony crown is one of the most contemplative spots in the county. But from the plane, I saw how close the slopes of Sugarbush were - the chair lift, the trails curving down as if swiped by a giant claw. A reminder that Vermont is different things to different people.

We headed west toward Snake Mountain. Joe was laid back as if lingering at a lunch counter, his hand resting casually on the controls. He told us he sometimes brings his two-year-old along, strapping him into a car seat. His son's favorite word is "up."

We were soon gliding over a patchwork of farm fields, some brushed and combed, others fallow. A tractor moved along one edge, slow as a bug. An unspoken communal artistry was at play below, each part of the sprawling canvas hewn by countless hands over the generations. The sun broke through a patch of clouds and the plane's reflection moved across a field of corn. Suddenly, my shadow had wings.

Joe flew us over our house, and the dirt road we like to run: the horse farm, the tunnel of trees, the swamp, the mile-markers of our sweaty route. "This'll be your fastest time," Joe smiled. Then he banked east near a cemetery, the pale headstones like rows of crooked teeth. And headed back to the airport. As soon as we touched down, I wanted to go back up.

And driving home, I kept my eyes skyward, trying to trace where we'd been. I realized my new favorite word was that of a two-year- old's. And it filled me with the same wonder.

This is Caleb Daniloff of Middlebury.

Caleb Daniloff is a freelance writer and recipient of the 2005 Ralph Nading Hill Jr. Literary Prize.
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