I don’t know why that’s the only time I flew with Dad. It seems kind of silly now, that in his Pan Am years I never did. Somehow it just never worked out. For 14 years of my growing-up life, his job was located 8 hours away from home, which made accompanying him rather difficult…not to mention the fact that the Air Force tends to frown on pilot’s taking their kids out on rescue missions. We would see him, occasionally though, flying over our house. He’d let Mom know if they were flying to Alaska for training exercises, and the approximate time of their passing overhead, and we’d hang around all day, just waiting for the magic hour when he’d fly over.
You could hear them coming before you saw them, the great-big Hueys with their green paint jobs, their flight-patterns taking them straight over our cliff on the north of Orcas Island. We’d run out to the deck and wave like mad, unable to talk over the noise, our hearts beating in time to the whump of the engines. And then, so quickly, they’d be gone – heading over Matia and Sucia islands, over tiny Puffin, over Vancouver, B.C. – and we were left with our ears ringing, our hearts slowing, the blessing of his wave from the window still reflected in our shining eyes.
And that’s why, here in farmland, I love the crop-dusters. I’ll be washing dishes, or folding laundry, and I’ll hear them coming. At first – every time, without fail – I think it’s a maniacal driver on our dirt road, going about 100, and then, when it’s almost too late, I realize what it is and I yell for the kids to come, making a dash for the door as I do so.
Out on the deck we laugh and wave and delight in the noise, the proximity, the sheer overwhelming power. Inevitably, at some point, I run for the camera, though I’ve never been able to get a shot of it directly over my head. The good thing is, I usually have several tries, as the planes come back and forth, back and forth in their job of spraying the corn, the soybeans, the bugs that threaten the crops.
Not all of my friends understand the joy I find in the yellow crop duster, though a few of them understand a little. My husband, bless his heart, gets it, and he runs to the deck with us, shading his eyes against the sun as he admires the dangerous flying. Nevermind the possible philosophical issues with chemicals vs. organic farming, to me these planes are my youth – my wonderful childhood of tidepools and forts and parents who loved me – all rolled up in that airplane sound – fixed wing or not – flying over my house, over the years. The pilot has no idea, I’m sure, why this crazy family comes running to wave. Maybe he doesn’t even see us, focused as he is on the field before him. And then he’s gone, only to return, time and again, rising like the sun on the horizon, like a ship on a sea of grain.
My dad had a friend who owned a bi-plane and he came up to Orcas Island one time and gave us rides. I remember putting on the goggles and climbing in behind my sister. I remember my hair flying behind me, the feel of the wind against my cheeks. I remember seeing the town I knew so well unrolling beneath me, the beaches and boulders I had conquered, now tiny and toy-like below. I’m the king of the mountain!
And then we were flying over our house, our trees, our garden. “This is what Dad sees!” I thought. “This is his view. This is his world.” And for a moment, for a brief instant in my ten-year old, self-centered heart, I understood.