July 21, 2000

This month's National Geographic arrived Friday, filled with its usual array of beautiful pictures. On a few occasions the magazine has had features of our area, but its a big world, and National Geographic is famous for bringing us stories of all the Earth's nooks and crannies. People are attracted to the magazine for a view of far away places, but we shouldn't forsake the beauty of our area with swoons of adoration for sequoias standing amidst wisps of fog.

It seems to be a common human fault to romanticize far off lands while ignoring our own back yards. The Geographic's excellent photography and well crafted stories make it all too easy to fall in love with these places. I am certain that a skillful and patient photographer could find all the right light, angles, and weather to make a mountain of mine tailings look like a nature reserve. The story writer could easily do the same thing with the words that wrap around the pictures.

The Finger Lakes area is not Big Sur, but it's ours and we should be pleased with our fortunes. Most every evening and morning I gaze from my "office windows" at the patchwork quilts of farms and woods that spread up and down the hills and across the valleys. We get plenty of rain, sunshine, and an ample warm season. We get a winter which invigorates the young and helps the rest of us appreciate the warm months. We get perspectives from our changing seasons and weather. Most parts of the world are not so blessed

Since the beginning of July we have had an impressive string of clear and cool weather. Night after night I have flown along with little to do but admire the scenery at either edge of daylight. The western end of my route covers almost a hundred miles of farmland, fields along the rivers and fields on the hilltops, all of them attended with the owner's watchful eye. In a concert of individual and independent efforts all of them have been plowed, planted, and turned from winter's brown to the orderly green of summer croplands.

The forests and lakes of the Poconos and Catskills are scenic, and have their own stories, but the evidence of man's hand is much less apparent. When looking down from an airplane most people find themselves looking at the accommodation man has made with nature, rather than looking at nature itself. I do marvel though as I pass over the Cannonsville Reservoir near Deposit, to think that its water will pass through a hundred miles of tunnels to reach the faucets of New York City.

Flying through blue skies though is seldom as interesting as flying with the weather as it comes or goes. An empty sky is like an empty room. Its walls, ceilings and floors can be tastefully crafted, but without furniture it lacks character. Clouds are the furniture that makes the sky so interesting.

Saturday morning, passing south of Elmira to approach it from the west, I was flying about 2500 feet above the hilltops. I was below the rain clouds that lingered from the night's storms, but well above the mists that clung to the hillsides. I am at a loss to explain why the mists were as they were, but I would bet that the air was completely saturated with moisture and was being moved against the hills with a very gentle breeze.

Visibility in my narrow band of clear air was about ten miles, enough to see a good section of the countryside, but not enough to connect it to the rest of the world. The light at this hour, below thousands of feet of clouds was still dim, allowing most man made features to fade into the deep background. The scenes I saw for those few minutes could have come from any remote corner of this earth, or some other planet. Fog filled some valleys heavily yet left others with only thin veils. Most uncharacteristically, it filled the hollows on the hillsides, accenting their contours, and skewing reality by laying on a diagonal. The view could have been seas and continents, or lakes and mountain isles. The hilltops laying before me could have been alpine peaks with the valley floors thousands of feet below.

It was a feast for the eyes and sustenance for the soul, but once again the table was set for only one. A camera might have captured the fantasy, but more likely the picture would have been no more exciting than left overs from a doggy- bag; sights like these are so fleeting that there is no time for careful set-ups. It feels lonesome to see these things but to be unable to share them.

I haven't worn out all the views though, and I have no monopoly on our scenery. Most of the things that I see can be seen by someone with the most basic pilot license. Every day this summer millions of recreational dollars will be frittered away on quick thrills and instant gratification, while flight instructors and airports fade away for lack of traffic.

It feels lonesome to think that private flying may whither because perseverance has gone out of style.

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