The scattered clouds above us were bunching up a little closer together and we had rising terrain ahead. My wife Janet, my parents, and Eddie Pippin, Canine Aviator were VFR on our way North through Oregon in my club's A36 Bonanza. A cold front had passed through earlier leaving some scattered clouds and it was time to climb above them. I steered for a break in the clouds and started a slow, circling climb to top them. Soon we were back on course above the ragged, cottony-white layer. The forecast for our destination was good and I knew I could get a pop-up IFR clearance if needed to get back down. It was a stunning day and we were thoroughly enjoying the view.
One of the main themes of this blog has been the immediacy and "presentness" of flying. You just can't fly an airplane safely and well without a keen awareness of what's going in the present moment. That experience of fully "being" is one of the things I find most compelling about flight. A popular aphorism says that we are "human beings," not "human doings." It's a reminder that our experience of life happens only here and now, no matter how we fill our lives with frenetic activity. While I find much wisdom in that statement, I also find that "human doings"—the constant stream of actions, moment-to-moment and day-to-day, that make up a life—are equally important. These doings often provide some of the best opportunities for being.
On our Oregon flight, for example, I was taking a continuous series of actions in response to the present reality of our situation. Observing the cloud conditions and the terrain, I had some decisions to make. Climbing above the clouds VFR, changing course, or requesting a pop-up IFR clearance were all viable options. It was another opportunity to practice what I like to call the observe-act-observe cycle. The realities of the flight environment demanded of me both an awareness of the present reality and a series of timely actions. What's more, that awareness allowed me to enjoy every moment of the flight.
While few other experiences in my life inspire quite the same degree of alert action, I have gradually learned to bring some of it to my everyday experience. As I go through the often frenetic activity of my daily commute or work day, I find myself frequently stopping to notice what's going on around me, how I feel physically and emotionally, and assessing what would be the best thing to do next. Sometimes, it's just to gaze out the window and take a deep breath! I don't imagine that I would have quite this experience of life if it weren't for my lessons learned in the cockpit.
As we approached our destination of Redmond, Oregon, the clouds started breaking up, leaving a convenient opening through which to comfortably descend VFR. I went through all the usual actions involved in landing at an unfamiliar towered airport: planning a pattern entry as directed by the controller, watching for traffic, getting the airplane slowed down and configured for landing. Finally, we rolled out on Redmond's runway 28, turned off, and were cleared to taxi to the FBO. Through it all, I maintained a continuous stream of actions taken in the context of an alert and present situational awareness. I had no choice! The airplane and the flight environment insisted on it.
The sun was setting as we climbed out of the airplane and looked around. The clouds over the Cascade mountains were bathed in a gorgeous red-orange glow and the wind was sharp out of the West. It was a spectacular scene—and I couldn't think of any place I would rather be.