A Book of Time

Looking at life in the air one logbook page at a time.

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||| |---|---| | | | The notes are cryptic; scattered snapshots of a life that would mean very little to anyone except me. Two words-"By myself"-are all that denote the cascade of emotions, experience, fear, excitement and joy that accompanied my first solo in my Cessna 120 taildragger. "Familiarization," reads another stoic entry explaining 15 minutes' worth of signed-off flying time that would seem perfectly ordinary and mundane if it weren't for the brief designation "P-38J"-a World War II fighter plane-in the column describing "type of aircraft."

"Familiarization." I laugh, even looking at it now. I remember reaching over my friend Steve's shoulders to take the controls as we flew the fighter from California to Minnesota that spring day, banking the airplane left and right, giddy with the feel of being in control of a real, honest-to-goodness fighter, even if it was from my crouched perch on the wing. I was on the wing because P-38s don't have an actual jump seat. The only way to hitch a ride in a Lightning is to strap yourself onto the wing spar that cuts through the cockpit behind the pilot's seat. The quarters are crowded, and not recommended for anyone much over my 5'4" height, but my, oh my, the ride is worth it! Sitting on top of the Lightning's wing, the world stretches out around and beneath you, separated only by the Plexiglas canopy bubble over your head. It's an E-ticket ride of speed and sight in a changing hemisphere of earth and sky, colors and sounds all rushing by the wingtips at 300 miles an hour or more.

I remember flashing through towering halls of cumulus columns that day, squealing with delight as Steve cut knife-edged through the pathways of the heavens, catching the shadow of ourselves in a circular rainbow as we came out of the cloud city's streets and rolled, wing over wing, into a clear blue sky. I didn't want the experience to end, and yet I thought I'd burst with intensity if it went on one moment longer. "If I die right now," I remember thinking, "at least I'll have known what it is to be alive."

All of this life, emotion and intensity, encapsulated in the simple droll word, "familiarization." I smile, touch the page fondly and move on, lost in days and years of memories and moments that flood over me like a waterfall. For I have reached one of those momentous landmarks in time-the closing of a logbook, and the start of a new journal of life, time and memories yet to come.

I'd actually been wondering lately where some of the years of my life had gone. They seemed to have slipped by faster than I intended, even though I thought I was paying attention. What had I done with them? The answer isn't entirely in the tattered, worn logbook I've now filled, of course, but an important piece of it is. For cryptic as the notes would be to anyone else, to me they spell the measure of more than a decade, bringing back moments, memories, people and emotions like vacation photos of friends found years after everyone has scattered.

There's the simple notation, "To Shelbyville fly-in with Allison, met Jim Dale," that marks the unknowing start of a relationship that would last eight years. Another calm entry of "takeoffs and landings, cowling emergency, landed OK," doesn't even begin to describe a challenging and frightening flight I'll never forget. The simple sad face symbol that accompanies a more recent entry, "touch and goes after returning from NY. Helped… a little," still brings tears to my eyes when I remember how my Cheetah tried so hard to cheer my heart that day.

I remember someone telling me once that buying a new address book was a fascinating and cathartic exercise. In addition to bringing back all sorts of memories, she said it gave you the chance to re-evaluate the importance of all the people who'd passed through your life as you decided whether or not to copy their names and numbers into the new volume.

Buying a new logbook isn't nearly as complicated. There's no copying over, no cathartic load-shedding of people or events. But the reflection it generates can be much more rewarding. For while an address book holds only the most basic of facts about old friends and lovers, an old logbook holds the record of time spent, events shared, laughter, fear and emotions that went with the names, dates and airplanes listed in the columns and pages.

Tucked within this book are some of the very important stories, changes, questions and answers of my life-stories told through both what is and is not present. One would have to look closely at one seemingly unremarkable page, for example, to notice that the 10 short flights listed there span more than two years of time. The pang I feel looking at that page is not from any of the flights themselves, but from the struggles I remember that raged between the lines-of worrying about making ends meet, of trying to decide the direction of my life, of faltering, stumbling and searching painfully hard for a compass that might tell me the way home. So how much more meaningful, then, to read the simple inscription a single page later that exclaims with joy, "Picked up my new airplane!" So little said, so much conveyed.

There's the famous flight to "Beno," Oregon, and another flight with my best buddy Kimberly that simply says, "Great Circle Route to the Wine Country"-shorthand for a flight in which we became so hopelessly turned around and lost that she and I still laugh about it, seven years later. There's the trip to Cedar Key, Florida, with Jim in the 120, where the official approach included a buzz job over the tiny downtown area to let Edna, the owner of the only taxi in town, know that there were pilots who needed a ride coming in to the tiny island strip. There's my magical lunar eclipse flight with Roger, some dual instruction in a T-6 Texan, and a riotous, wonderful and oh-so-memorable trip to Glacier National Park with Kimberly. There are flights into Middletown, Ohio, to have lunch at Frisch's; Seymour, Indiana, for dinner; Chino, California, for a ride in a B-25 Mitchell bomber; and Billing, Sudan, to pick up relief workers from a war zone. And in between, everyday notes from the roller-coaster ride of a pilot's progress through the school of experience. "Seven landings. Humbling." "Touch and Go" entries that would add up to months of my life if I totaled the hours they mark. "25kt G direct xwind, downdrafts, wind shear, TURBULENCE! 53 kt gndspd, 1,500 fpm up and down, YUCK!" The entries go on and on.

In the beginning years, I notice that I stuck more to the strict and boring facts, as if still intimidated by the seriousness of this logbook record keeping. But as time went on, the "remarks" section becomes much more interesting to read-almost as if I began to realize how unreliable memory is without a few postcards from the past to give me touchstones to what I felt, saw and learned along the way. There are notes of conversations with controllers, shorthand descriptions of the fun I had once at my destinations, and even comments like these from one particular flight in Baja, Mexico: "18kt direct xwind takeoff, cowling loose, PSF fogged in, diverted to Guererro Negro, met by marines with NO sense of humor, Cap-i-tan Victor's friend Roberto rescued us, drove us to town. Cowling held." I used up three entries' worth of lines for that one-and still only touched the surface of my adventures that day.

Our lives are made of moments like these: scraps and threads of a multicolored, layered and complex fabric that we weave, patch, mend and add to as we grow. I'm not always sure I can see a cohesive or ordered pattern in the whole of the cloth. But looking back through these pages, I can at least see and appreciate again some of the individual colors, threads and experiences that, woven together, have created the person I am and the life I've led. Looked at as a whole, time seems to have flown by. But as I stop and recall the specific sights, stories, days, and journeys that accompany each logbook entry I've made, time slows…expands…and I see much better the worth and fullness of the seasons I have known.

Where will my new logbook take me? I have no idea. For as I flip through the fresh, empty pages that will mark new chapters in my life, I realize my life is still very much a work in progress. The years may accumulate behind me, but I can still make the future go any direction and contain any colors or elements I want. I like that thought. Although memories are precious, our lives start over again every moment of every day. And while the adventures in our past may have helped to build our structure, form and strength, it's the adventures and possibilities yet to come that give our hearts their wings.