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Mood Seeds Direct!

"Skyhawk 80377, you're cleared to the San Jose airport via direct Sacramento VOR Sacramento 160 radial mood seeds direct maintain 5000 departure frequency 125.25 squawk 3203."

I hunched over my kneeboard like a man paralyzed from the neck up. What the hell were "mood seeds" and what did they have to do with my clearance? They sounded like one of those supplements you see advertised on late-night infomercials.

"Mood Seeds Direct! Just $19.95 plus shipping and handling! Order Now!"

I turned to my instructor Bill with a glassy, deer-in-the-headlights stare that told him all he needed to know. He keyed the mike.

"377 is cleared to San Jose airport via direct Sacramento VOR, Sacramento 160 radial, MOVDD, CEDES, direct, maintain 5000, departure 125.25, squawk 3203," he intoned with perfect calm and poise.

"Skyhawk 377, readback correct," came the cheerful reply. "Have a nice flight."

It was my first IFR cross-country flight and we were on the ground at Mather Field in Sacramento, California. I'd just flown a rather shaky VOR approach, and now I found myself totally bewildered by a clearance that might as well have been in Martian. Bill pointed at the chart on his lap. South of us, a little over 50 miles away, was the navigation fix called MOVDD, pronounced "moved", and a bit to the West of that was CEDES, pronounced "seeds." Or, as I had heard them, "mood seeds." I couldn't help but wonder what I would have done if Bill hadn't been there. I wasn't prone to mike fright, but I was in over my head.

"You sound very professional on the radio," Bill told me, "but that can work against you. Controllers sometimes take that as a cue to give you a rapid-fire clearance."

"That's good to know," I replied, "but how am I supposed to understand alphabet-soup fixes I've never heard of?"

"Well, go back to your clearance mnemonic," said Bill, pointing to my kneeboard.

I looked down at the letters C-R-A-F-T written vertically down the left side of my notebook page.

Bill explained, "C is where you're cleared to, in this case San Jose airport, so everything after that is your R, or routing, until you hear your altitude (A), so write down everything you hear even if you don't know what it means."

"You mean I should have written down 'mood seeds'?" I asked, incredulous.

Bill chuckled, "Yes, if that's what you heard. You can clear it up soon enough, either by finding the fixes on your chart or asking the controller to spell them for you."

"I would never have found these without knowing how to spell them," I confessed.

"Then just ask the controller for the spellings of 'mood' and 'seeds'," Bill said.

This was one of the most valuable lessons I learned in my instrument training. It was about more than just working with Air Traffic Control. It was about how I can take effective action even when I'm totally confused. I just need to observe as much as I can, identify the information I'm missing, and then take an action to get that information, whether it's looking it up, thinking it through, or (simplest of all) asking for help. By breaking down the problem, taking it one piece at a time, and asking for help when I need it, I can clear up temporary confusions and get my bearings again. In the process, I can even cultivate a little calm, poise, and confidence of my own.

Still, maybe I should lay in a supply of Mood Seeds just in case.

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