Wednesday, April 1, 2009

It's a bird, it's a plane

It's a gorgeous beginning to the day, set against a string of not so pretty stretches of cold. Spring has taken its sweet time arriving this year in the Valley. Indeed, everywhere across the Pacific Northwest, the masses have grown tired of the winter that won't quit.

We're usually spared the utter extremes of the coldest season due to our 3-digit elevation -- between 700-800 feet above sea level -- effectively ducking extended periods of chilly, bone-jarring days and nights where piles of snow that slowly impose their will on civilized people all around us. Drive 30 miles in any direction and you're quite literally waist deep in arctic misery.

Granted, living here can be filled with many forms of misery, but tough winter weather is not among them.

So, it's 9:30 a.m. and I'm firmly planted in my office. My buddy the brain reminds me that he's holding my sanity hostage until a certain daily ransom is paid in the form of several cups of hot, black coffee.

Sensing a lull in the break-neck pace of radio broadcasting, I gather my coffee pot and cup and head for the sink. Dish-soap: check; cleaning sponge: good enough (remember to pick up a new pack of Scotch-Brite pads at the store next time).

I begin scrubbing away yesterday's coffee stains, careful to use only enough dish-soap to do the job without leaving the sudsy residue that I swear will ruin an otherwise good cup of Jo.

As I'm rinsing, OCD style, my ears announce the droning twin engines of another Horizon Air flight on final approach for Runway 11. It's faint, but growing stronger and closing on the bluff above where the airport rests just beyond the public golf course. It's become a part of life working on Snake River Avenue and living just above there in the Echo Hills Addition. Our station, like our house, lines up perfectly for approaching aircraft on 11 -- or departing aircraft on 29 (two niner). My ears can usually pinpoint the exact model of airplane before my eyes visually confirm my hunch.

It's the newer, larger Bombardier Q400 -- the very recent replacement for the venerable Dash 8 -- which serves dozens of regional feeder airports like LWS (Lewiston Nez Perce County Regional Airport) to SEA/TAC in Seattle, Washington.

Again, it's gorgeous outside. Still a little cool outside, but earnestly beautiful with the sun shining and signs of spring flexing her stiff, dormant muscles again for the first time. The noise of the approaching Horizon flight grows stronger as I continue to stare mindlessly out the kitchen window and finish up with my rinsing.

That's when my eyes immediately lock onto a lone robin in the grass. She works her beak in and around blades of grass, perhaps in search of a fresh, wiggly worm for breakfast, or a variety of delightful bugs.

I have my morning routine, and the robin has hers -- albeit hers a more noble habit geared towards survival, where mine is a France-like surrender to a soul-sucking addiction.

Between filling up the reservoir with fresh, cold water, watching the small bird and sensing the exact position of the plane directly over the building -- even as it cast a slight, gone-in-an-instant shadow through my field of vision -- the robin stops, looks straight up and tracks the plane like a kid at an airshow until it eventually disappears out of sight over the bluff.

I don't know why but moments like that one are interesting to me. What could she be thinking?

"Bravo," the feathered one mocks. "Look at you, aloft on the wind with so many parts needing to work perfectly in order to harness the very air I breathe to take flight. Oh sure, you may be thousands of feet higher, and be able to fly quickly from here to Christmas and back, and make so much noise that other pathetic humans have no choice but to stop in their tracks to gawk like imbeciles. No. You are in my domain. I can fly in the blink of an eye. And I don't need fancy runways, or jet fuel, or turbo-props, or flaps, or a yoke, or an impressive console of controls to trick fate. I'll tip my beak in recognition that you made it to the stars, and you don't have to chug earth worms for breakfast. But I can fly, dammit, and your species cannot, and probably should not."

Sarcasm always comes first with me. It's a character flaw, and sadly, nothing sacred in life is safe from my need to make fun of it. Maybe it stems from a less than positive cup-is-half-empty outlook. Or, maybe I just find things more funny than serious. If I can laugh at it first, then surely I can take whatever is left in the form of life lessons later. I will laugh hysterically some day at my own daughters' weddings -- and then weep uncontrollably until the liquor kicks in.

My first reflex is that the bird is thinking, "wtf... who in the hell do you think you are?"

And that's right. Who in the hell do we think we are? For as long as mankind has walked this rock we've strained our necks and squinted our vitamin deficient eyes in awe of God's feathered masters of the sky. For they dance upon the winds effortlessly and frolic among the clouds with joy and purpose. Truly, birds are the masters of flight.

Then something else struck me. After countless millenniums of watching and wondering how, our brightest minds surmised that fabric and wood could be combined with thrust in such a way that flight was finally within our grasp. We further conceived ways to bend sheet metal and aluminum into vehicles attached to jet engines, to further realize that mere dreams a century earlier were now a part of everyday life. And when we're not thinking of new ways to kill each other at Mach 2 from the skies above we're devising new and more amazing ways to go faster and climb higher.

Why was this tiny bird staring so intently at the machine overhead? Was it possibly an awestruck robin frozen in the spectacle that is modern flight.

"Bravo," she sighs. "Just look at your blurry, massive hunk of buzzing metal and rivets, so high, so graceful, and so effortlessly knifing through the air above me. Truly, mankind is the master of flight -- as I'm still unable to avoid office windows disguised as blue sky."