Dylan Thomas said, “Do not go gentle into that good night.
Old age should burn and rave at close of day.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
Yet T. S. Eliot said, “This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang but a whimper.”
As the hot air balloon floated upward on yet another birthday and mortality ever more visible, their words drifted into my mind. My son had surprised me at dawn with, “Get up Mom! We have to go.”
“What’s up sweetheart?”
“We’re going on a hot air balloon ride. We have to leave in ten minutes.”
With sleep and tears in my eyes, I brushed my teeth, threw on some jeans and tennies, and applied a quick swath of lipstick. During the forty-five minute drive Nick and I got caught up on how San Francisco State was treating him, his new job training students for the climbing wall, and concerts he’d recently worked as a bartender. Before we knew it we were at the Los Olivos Market meeting our guide and pilot, James Lawson, owner of Sky’s the Limit Ballooning Adventures. Two husband-wife couples milled about nearby as we made last minute pit stops to the restroom and snuggled into jackets to keep out the chill morning air.
The seven of us boarded the shuttle and drove a short distance to Santa Ynez Valley field where the basket lay on its side next to the deflated balloon. After James gave us a few safety tips, he yanked the pull cord on the huge fan a few times and the blower engine revved. As the balloon filled, we were asked to enter two by two for photos inside its belly. Nick and I stood arm in arm giggling, the strong winds blowing back our hair and clothes. Next, we all stood at a safe distance and they lit the burners which shot two yards of blue and red flame into the bag. While the fabric billowed and rose we were witness to Archimedes’ principle of buoyancy pulling the basket upright.
“Okay, line up,” James ordered us. “You’ll be three by three on either side of the basket.”
Using footholds cut in the side of the gondola, we climbed aboard and situated ourselves in the compartments. Ours was a six-person basket with the burner directly over us warming our heads with the blasting flames. There were multiple roped hand holds surrounding us making me think that this was going to be some roller coaster of a ride. Afraid I might tumble into Nick, I grabbed one, just to be safe. Then James pulled on some levers, and the burners hissed. Tension built in my shoulders.
And I waited.
I cocked my ear to the side. Weren’t we going to take off? Then I realized. We already had.
I felt nothing. No jarring jolts. No rattling shudders. Not even a wobble at lift-off.
Yet moments later we were airborne drifting over the golden grasses of a California autumn. Everyone grew silent, as if in prayer, communing with the moment. And the world and all its worries withered making space for the quiet of wind and fire.
Below red and valley oaks stood sentinel on hillsides flanked by coastal sage scrub and grasses. The sun’s rounded shoulders arced from under the horizon changing the peppered cirrus and altostratus clouds from tangerine to lavender and finally alabaster.
The ground waned as we ascended becoming a blanket for the behemoth that is our Earth. I pulled out my phone, trying to capture a few snippets of the venture while still remaining present. My fellow passengers seemed to have the same sentiment, shifting from detached photojournalist to awe-struck spectator every few minutes. The balloon shadowed the undulating chaparral below reminding me of an angel with interlocked wingtips unfurled.
Our pilot and guide not only navigated the balloon but also his spiel expertly. As he guided the craft in and out of oak forests, over green vineyards, and even over a field to hover and pick up a pumpkin from one of his crew, he recited tales of land and man, geology and climate, history and biology. He would speak intermittently, allowing each of us meditative moments to breathe in this singular experience.
My boy and I exchanged few words during the flight but multiple loving glances. I could tell how thrilled he was to bring me joy, something he has done many times since becoming an adult. Nick has taken me on mother-son dates to rock concerts by Neil Young and Robert Plant, long hikes to remote places, and even a Halloween rave party. That boy loves giving to his family.
With memorable days like this one.
Yep, I may be another year older with mortality rearing its Medusa tentacles my way. But on this one day, I got to rage, rage, against the dying of the light.
About Laurie: The author of the recently released Finding Joy as well as The Pharaoh’s Cry, Portal Shift, Kidnapped Smile, and Dragon Sky of the fantasy series The Artania Chronicles, and Forests Secrets. Laurie Woodward is also a screenwriter who co-authored Dean and JoJo: The Dolphin Legacy. Her poetry has been published in multiple journals and anthologies and she was a collaborator on the popular anti-bullying DVD Resolutions. Bullied as a child, Laurie is now an award-winning peace consultant, poet, and blogger who helps teach children how to avoid arguments, stop bullying, and maintain healthy friendships. She writes on the Central Coast of California. More about her work can be found at Author Laurie Woodward — Next Chapteria.net