Light & Shadow #44

Floating — Moscow, ID  Circa 1980

One fall afternoon, a hot air balloon pilot brought his aerostat to a local grade school. After a demonstration to the kids, I was supposed to join the aeronaut for my first-ever balloon ride.

The whole affair took place on the giant playground, with the craft safely tethered to his chase vehicle by a large nylon strap. No doubt he’d done this many times before — proving to onlookers how a bag of hot air could gracefully overcome gravity.

Graceful under the right conditions, that is. This particular day was breezy, and a breeze will have its way with a balloon every time. When that breeze became a wind gust, the strap was no match for the force.

I suspect the pilot was as surprised as I was when the strap snapped. He reacted quickly enough to open the balloon and release the heated air. It was that, or end up in the trees that bordered the playground. I didn’t argue when he declined to take me for a flight that day.

The next day, we quietly floated over rooftops — close enough to greet people having coffee on their patio and hear birds chirping in the trees. With the occasional burst of the propane burners, we gained altitude and floated away from town over the wheat fields of the Palouse.

I took this picture just as we were landing. Or, more appropriately, crashing. Thanks to that breeze again, we had significant lateral movement in play as we descended. The basket grabbed the earth and threw us out — ass over teakettle to the ground.

Of all that could have gotten broken, I guess my glasses were a small price to pay.

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