Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Looking DOWN on Red Tailed Hawk (via Hot Air Balloon)

(Photo by Gary)

Last summer, the bride and I celebrated our 36th anniversary. We picked well and have been lucky, and have thoroughly enjoyed our time together. We hope to be fortunate enough and healthy enough to continue to enjoy each other's company until we depart this earth.

To commemorate that anniversary, as a surprise I booked a hot air balloon ride with Windjammer Balloons out of York, PA. The ride originally was booked for our anniversary weekend, but the weather did not cooperate (rain and wind are the nemeses of ballooning and do necessitate rescheduling, perhaps as much as half the time). Trying to reschedule with the other couple was tough, so we ultimately punted until this spring when the ride went off as scheduled without a hitch.

As a nature lover and ultrarunner, I am pretty familiar with the critters that roam in our neck of the woods here in southern Pennsylvania. I have been blessed to have had many encounters with them, on foot, in their own territory where I was the intruder and always strive mightily NOT to be an unwelcome guest. So one of the things that pleasantly surprised me about the balloon ride was seeing critters. As we flew over farm fields and woods we saw numerous white-tailed deer. Also we saw two separate foxes, one that appeared from its color to be a red fox, and the other a gray fox.

But the crème de la crème for me was to be looking DOWN on a red-tailed hawk in flight. I have always admired this magnificent bird, but have only ever seen it from below. I am pleased that they are again doing well. Their population was in severe decline due to ill-informed people shooting them on sight so as to increase the population of game animals, and the effects of DDT.

When I and my running buddies take our noontime run around the perimeter of the Navy base where we work, we often see a resident Red-tail, who is familiar enough with people that he/she often does not fly from its street light perch as we run beneath it. And when it does fly, seeing those magnificent red tail feathers spread to catch the wind brings a thrill to my spine.

Back to Windjammer--their price per person for a 1-hour flight is $195 (I have no financial interest in this). The pilot was friendly, professional, and inspired confidence. I should mention that one of our flying companions is a licensed private small-plane pilot and is strictly by-the-book when it comes to safety--he was impressed with the attention to equipment and procedural safety. The ground crew in the chase vehicle kept in constant radio and visual communication with the balloon, and was there to meet us as we gently touched down in an large backyard.

Then after the balloon was stowed and we had been transported back to the launch site, we toasted the experience with champagne. What a memorable day--highly recommended!

The Balloonists' Prayer
The Winds have Welcomed you with softness.
The Sun has blessed you with its warm hands.
You have flown so high and so well,
that God has joined you in your laughter.
And He has set you gently back again
into the loving arms of Mother Earth.

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