For the past 60 seconds I’ve been terrified and exhilarated all at once. The airplane has risen up and away; air is rushing past me as I plummet to the earth below. I can feel my facial features contorting. The noise is deafening, and I’m concentrating on my altimeter, waiting for the moment when I pull my ripcord. I’m free-falling through a Texas sky and life is suspended. It’s also in doubt.
I pull and I’m immediately jerked upright, my parachute’s harness keeping me securely attached to the piece of fabric that I’m now completely reliant on. My heart only stops racing when I know I have a good canopy. The sudden lack of noise is disconcerting and the sense of calm is immense. I’m suspended so far above the earth that I’ve no concept of height or the fear of falling.
These moments, above and among the clouds, are totally worth the other terrors of skydiving.
You’re not supposed to skydive through them and the pilots are good about keeping their skydivers out of them but I once went through a cloud. Every bit of my logical brain told me that it had no mass, that there was no physical texture to a cloud, but I’ve spent my life enjoying the visual texture of clouds and so I didn’t trust my logic. Texture usually belongs to solid objects. I flinched when I went through it, expecting it to stop me.
And of course, it didn’t.
It’s been a really long time since I’ve buckled myself into a parachute and boarded a plane with no seats. It’s been a few decades since I’ve swung my legs out of an open airplane door and held onto the strut of a Cessna, willing myself to let go and trust the process. I’m old enough now that my practical voice is far louder than my adventurous voice.
But I still love clouds and the textures they add to the blank canvas of the sky. I spend a lot of time looking up and I’m a happy photographer when the sky is full.
My husband is a pilot. Now there’s a man who knows clouds.
Oh, I have slipped the surly bongs of earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds…and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of.
John Gillespie Magee, Jr. “High Flight”