No margins, no markers and my dad in a Mooney

Write about the horizon.

January 15 prompt, “A Writer’s Book of Days”

The horizon.

Not as we recognize. The horizon we know is where sky and Mother Earth intersect in a vast line as far as the human eye can see. Mother Earth in all her expressions. Craggy mountains. Irregular hills. The flat plains. Waterless desert. Sea. Oh she who sings to me, the sea!

All are possible in a horizon. The topography dictates. Changing topography dictates the horizon that we see. The singular constant is the sky.

There is another horizon. A horizon unknown or unseen most likely to you. To most. The artificial horizon in the cockpit of an airplane.

My father was a pilot. Is still a pilot on the other side. I know that our greatest passions, gifts, character strengths continue with us in our soul journey beyond Earth.

My father and mother had, in short, a marriage from purgatory. Not every moment of their waking hours. They had their good times. And those good times became fewer and fewer as years passed. My sister and I are definitely products of parents who chose to remain together for the kids. {Ain’t a pole long enough to touch that topic!}

Anyhow, an unhappy and contentious marriage it was for decades. Around 32 years it was, until the kids were gone and they final decided to part ways, thank GOD!


My mother was a thoughtful person. “Was.” She’s still here, physically. She is no one I care to write about or even talk about in a therapist setting. Mother is as loaded a word as there could be. Nonetheless, she was a thoughtful person.

It was one of the last Christmases that we had as a fucked-up family that we were. My parents were about 50. That Christmas, my mother gave my father something that exemplified her thoughtfulness. Moreover, it remains to this day I would say the greatest gift that my father ever received: flying lessons.

The world opened up for my father. He needed that. Aviation turned his world upside down and inside out, in all the best of ways. Flying lessons were a ticket to freedom, in the most literal sense. I never knew my dad had such the inner pilot within until I saw him and flying meet.

{I did often say that my dad “missed a calling” as a military general and fighter pilot; not that it was his calling, he was an artist in this lifetime, but those deep deep undertones of military general/fighter pilot strongly existed.}

It started “small” of course. Lessons in a presumably 2-seater at the local airport. My father was not an easy man but he was a brilliant one. Actual genius IQ. The science and physics of flying, the maps, the numbers, all of it made sense to him. It was his language.

Time went on. The flying continued and grew. Eventually he got his instrument rating. NOT an easy achievement for those unfamiliar with aviation.

Once he achieved that, his world truly opened up in the BIGGEST of ways. He got his own plane, a 4-seater Mooney. His instrument rating meant he could fly through white-knuckling thunderstorms. Into treacherous weather with zero visibility.

He and my mother, who had no love of flying but did enjoy traveling, traveled all over the country and up into Canada. Remote towns. Odd places. My dad was — is — an eclectic unconventional person who marches to a different drummer. Correction: flies.

For decades, he got to do what I swear he loved doing more than anything. Flying his Mooney. Life happened. Finally he had to give up the plane. By then, he was ready to be free of the responsibilities and I reckon challenges that health and more brought to flying.

But. There’s one more untold piece to the story.

My dad and I had a complex complicated relationship. I would dare to touch that with a 100-foot pole, not in a public forum. Not your damn business, to be frank.

One day my father and I went flying in his Mooney. Rare — extraordinarily rare — were the times that my dad and I did anything as father-daughter, except battle. Later in life we talked. A lot. Not stuff personal. Issues. Philosophy. Politics. Our minds synched.

I was of course an adult by the time of this story. Approaching 50, now that I think of it, about the same age dad took up flying.

I was staying with him and my stepmother in southern Utah. We went flying. Just dad and me. Over the gorgeous red rock of  southern Utah. It was clear how connected my dad felt to that part of our country. The stunning red rock, the peaks, formations, the interplay of shadows and light (he has quite the photographer’s eye). That love of desert and rock wedded with his love of flying … my dad was in his element in an airplane above land he loved.

Just I and my dad in the plane. It was midday. Hot in a small plane. Almost stuffy. Ain’t like a car where you can just roll down a window! Altitude: maybe 3-4,000 feet. Everything’s small, compact, close in a small plane. You feel EVERY pocket of turbulence, every bounce of current, every nuance of wind, orientation and disorientation depending on conditions. Inside a small plane is flying at its most intimate and incomparable to commercial aircraft.

Every plane has an instrument called an attitude indicator. Known by other names including artificial horizon. It’s an image of a tiny plane set on a line that indicates the horizon.

Attitude indicator example

Attitude indicator example

The attitude indicator informs a pilot of a plane’s attitude, pitch and bank. It indicates, importantly, the position of the plane relative to the Earth’s horizon. From a cockpit, in inclement weather or higher altitude, there is no horizon visible to the eye. There is only: space. A vast sea of gray or blue with no visual markers or signage. No horizon. Only naked space.

The artificial horizon. I’ve seen it up close and personal. I’ve seen its tiny plane shift, rise and fall under my dad’s piloting. I’ve seen looking straight out a cockpit whose edges are at my eye level nothing save bright afternoon sky. I’ve seen it my own eyes up close and personal, a land with no margins or markers, only limitless horizonless sky.

There’s more to the story of me and my dad that afternoon in the air that I’d intended but I guess now wasn’t the time to share it after all. Perhaps I will another day, perhaps I won’t.

For now, it’s sufficient to write a wave and a hello to my dad up there. Not here, there. His love of aviation surviving his passing.

I still see him abruptly halting our conversations on the backyard patio in Utah and shooting his focus upward to any small plane that passed over, identifying it with his one good eye.

Still see him in his Mooney, at home, his knowledge of its workings intimate (he not only flew but got beneath to work on her mechanics), his skills grounded and impeccable. I trusted my dad piloting a plane more than I would trust ANYONE at a stick. I say that not because he’s my dad but for the person (and pilot) he was.

He could be trusted wholly in the air. Were something to fall amiss, he had the foundation of aviation knowledge, exceptional skills, abilities, the mind and the comprehensive understanding, earned from untold hours of flying, to respond mindfully and intelligently. He was not one to panic. He was one to rise to the challenge and command.

And he did not suffer fools. Not in a plane. He eventually took on students — verrrry selectively. If a student showed that he was unteachable, i.e., was undisciplined, unfocused, casual, arrogant, a know-it-all, he was out. Lucky but rare was the student taught to fly under my dad.

He was a true navigator of aviation with superior skills and intelligence. He was a man who got seated in his passion, perhaps his dream, late in life.

He was a man who loved to fly in a sky with no horizon … with an artificial horizon, guiding.


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