Posts Tagged ‘flight’

There’s drama walking through the autumn landscape.  The colors and forms are beautiful and so much change is occurring so suddenly that it holds your interest and makes even the unobservant aware of the fleeting nature of life.  The season is also a reminder of unrealized ambitions and unmet goals.  Whatever urgent dreams you may harbor, better happen sooner than later because time waits for no one.  Recently, I caught up with a friend at the Falls of the Ohio who I don’t see often enough and he told me this interesting story he witnessed about a buddy of his.  The following images are as they impressed themselves upon my imagination as the tale was told.

Here’s the short version of the story.  One day this guy is visiting the Falls of the Ohio and he finds a feather in the sand.

As feathers go, it wasn’t anything special in its own right.  However, it did trigger this notion in the brain of this fellow who found it and it served as a catalyst for this story.

Apparently, this man (let’s call him the Aviator) had a secret desire to learn how to fly, but heard through others that this was an impossibility.  He decided not to take the conventional wisdom at face value and determined to find out for himself.  He tied the feather into his hair and began the process of learning how he might accomplish his goal.

Having watched birds all his life, the Aviator knew that he needed wings, but what could he use to fabricate them?  On his travels around the river he frequently came across this odd material that was light and surprisingly strong.  Could it be used to make wings?  The Aviator began to gather this material from the woods around him.

Soon he had what he thought would make a nice matched pair of wings.  He created straps and sleeves that would allow him to attach the wings to his arms and this gave him a sense of having a power that he never had before.  Through practice, and trial and error, the Aviator taught himself the fundamentals of gliding and how to remain safe when things didn’t quite work out.  He sustained many bumps and bruises, but also gained mastery.  After running up and down the riverbank and letting the wind lift him just off the sand…the Aviator felt confident enough to try his first sustained flight. 

The Aviator needed a place where the winds were a little stronger than he found at the riverbank.

In the distance, the Aviator spotted the remains of a great tree.  It was from this spot that he would try his first flight.  He folded up his wings, adjusted his feather, and climbed up the enormous tree stump.

Reaching the top, the Aviator spread his wings and could feel the force of the wind upon them.  He grew more than a little fearful.  In his mind, he heard all the people who told him it was impossible to fly.  Breathing deeply, he pushed those voices into the wind where they dissipated.

For a moment, he closed his eyes and said a little prayer.  He let the memory in his muscles take over.

When a particularly strong gust of wind came up…the Aviator allowed it to fill his wings and he could feel himself lifting off the stump!  For the briefest of moments, the Aviator became aware that his decision-making process was too slow.  He would need to trust his instincts to fully learn how to fly and he let go.

The wind carried the Aviator up and over the river and he levelled out his flight.  He tested his maneuverability by banking from right to left.  He also practiced rising and descending.  When he felt confident that he had the right amount of control, he glided further and further away from his starting point.

It must have been a great thrill to be able to move around in a completely new way!  What surprises and delights to see your shadow projected upon the world below you.  To move with the freedom of a bird…hasn’t this been one of man’s most cherished dreams?  What a feeling of accomplishment the Aviator must have felt. 

I asked my friends whatever became of the Aviator?  He said he wasn’t sure since it had been awhile since anyone had talked with him.  His memory was already becoming the stuff of legends.  There are those who believe he fell into the river.  Others in town think that he is on an around the world trip.  And, there are folks who feel that it isn’t out of the realm of possibility that he was transformed by his experiences into a bird. If I have to choose…I like the last option best and every once in a while, I spot a bird that reminds me of the Aviator’s story.

POSTSCRIPT:  In 2003, among the anniversaries that form part of the backdrop for my Falls projects included the 200th anniversary of the Lewis and Clark Expedition and the 100th anniversary of the Wright Brothers first sustained flight at Kitty Hawk.  At the time, I remember wondering why we weren’t making a bigger deal about this flying achievement than we were?  Yes, there was a commemorative stamp and a few other smaller observances, but nothing of international attention that I recall.  Being able to fly has been on our collective imaginations since before the story of Icarus and Daedalus and is repeated throughout the world’s cultures. We even have flying dreams in our sleep.  And so, when we finally achieved flight, and eventually went to the moon and back…it struck me that we weren’t making a big enough deal about this?  It isn’t everyday that we achieve what was first conceived in our grandest imaginations.  I thought it deserved more recognition than it got.  What do you think?

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From the archives come these images of faux-birds made at the Falls of the Ohio.  In an earlier post, I had mentioned suspending my birds from waste fishing line to try to create the illusion of a flying bird.  Here are images from one day’s experiment when the wind was blowing a bit more than usual.  I also used a piece of aluminum wire and fashioned eyehooks and s-hooks to do the hanging.  In most of them, the fishing line is really obvious and to my mind…kind of funny in a no-tech sort of way.

Flying Kingfisher

I call this one the “Flying Kingfisher”.  It’s made from Styrofoam, driftwood, coal, and plastic.  The wings are fragments from the lids of minnow buckets used to carry live bait.  The next bird is a Chickadee or something!

Head-on Styro-chickadee

Flying Styro-chickadee

This “Flying Styro-chickadee” was made with my son, Adam’s help.  It now flies from the dining room’s chandelier in a small flock of other birds.

Three Flying Styro-birds

As a boy, I made many plastic model airplanes that are out of fashion now.  You know…the ones where you had to read the instructions and carefully glue the pieces together.  The Styro-birds have the same feel to me as when I made those plastic models.  I bet I made at least one kit representing just about every type of aircraft flown in both the world wars.  I also remember painting them to look as authentic as possible.   These birds, however, are as is and made from junk I collected along the Ohio River.

Styro-birds on the sand

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Styro-Storm Bird, 5/09

Styro-Storm Bird, 5/09

In my attempts to photograph the illusion of a flying bird, I’ve resorted to some low-tech solutions.  I first tried suspending my polystyrene models using cast-off fishing line found all too commonly on the riverbank.  Fishermen, please take your waste monofilament with you!  But, this solution was too obvious in the pictures and the models did blow around in the wind.  Then I hit upon using long thin skewers whittled  from local wood.  In the above photos, you can’t see that the bird is pinned to the branch behind it.  I call this the Styro-Storm Bird because it was made during a rain storm.  Materials used include polystyrene foam, wood, coal eyes, and plastic for the collar and part of the bill which came from a fishing bobber.  I’ve made a few of these birds recently and saved them. 

During the time I was working, this Eastern Kingbird hung around my site.  It didn’t seem too afraid of me.  I’ve noticed that there are a couple pairs of them currently at the Falls of the Ohio State Park.

Eastern Kingbird, 5/09

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