Tuesday, September 13, 2011

I haven't stopped smiling yet!!!!

Monday morning, Kath and I drove down to Centennial Airport at the south end of the Denver Metro, and I fulfilled a life-long dream. Since I was knee high to a grasshopper, as they say where I grew up, I wanted to fly in an open-cockpit biplane and specifically in a Stearman.

The Stearman was designed in the 1930s and was the initial training airplane for both the Army Air Force and the Navy during WW II. Here's a pic of a 1941 model Stearman, PT-17, with a gorgeous woman standing at the wing. Who is that woman you ask. Why, that's Kathy, my guardian angel and partner in life.

Kath gave me this ride in the Stearman as a 30th wedding anniversary present. What a wonderful present. The view isn't nearly as nice, but here's the intrepid aviator standing at the wing waiting to fly off on the dawn patrol to hunt down the Red Baron.

Yes, that's a parachute hanging on my body. We were going to do some acrobatics, and the FAA says if you are going to be doing crazy stuff like that, you at least need to let people know by wearing a parachute. They want to be able to take you to task for breaking an airplane if you crash one. So here's a picture of us in a turn after we flew out to the area southwest of Denver. We were in a bank, getting ready to head into a loop.

And the next picture is when we were pointed straight down in that loop. I figured not many of you have ever seen straight down in an airplane. Probably not many really do want to see that.

I cannot begin to describe how wonderful that hour was for me. Here's a haiku I wrote this morning about the experience.

    open cockpit morning 
     blue sky overhead 
     wind and sun play on my face 
     the essence of flight 

I flew for 20 years in the Air Force, lots of airplanes from single engined jets to large jet refueling airplanes and many smaller ones like Cessna O-1s, but nothing compared to this. Being in an open cockpit, looking through struts and wires, listening to that 450 hp Pratt and Whitney roaring, and with nothing above my head and only the wonderful view of the plains, the mountains, and the beautiful cloud speckled blue sky was truly marvelous for me. 

And after a soft, three-point landing, and taxiing to the parking ramp, it was amazing to see that little blue and yellow biplane parked between a couple of corporate jets. And you know those corporate pilots were eating their hearts out. And I was smiling the mother of all smiles.

The high I had yesterday persists. Kath was so thrilled to see me go up that she stood on the ramp and bawled, as she put it. And I had trouble sleeping last night because my face hurt from smiling so hard and long. She wants me to go back next week and fly again. I'm just afraid the magic wouldn't be there next time. It's the worry of a second date after a wonderful first. We'll see. 

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The female of the species

Well, I lied when I said my next post would be about flying in a Stearman. I'm here to report on a walk I took this morning out at PCC. But first, a weather report:

     days suddenly cool
     as if summer went away
     and autumn moved in 

It has suddenly cooled from days in the 90s to days in the 70s, and I like that much better. Those 90 degree days were too much. And the humidity was up a bit on some of those days too, so it was uncomfortable. Not Atlanta, 95 degrees and 95 percent humidity, but Denver 93 degrees and 35 percent humidity. We're really wimps here in Denver. 

And almost as a verification of the cooler weather, there were many more raptors, mostly ferruginous and red-tailed hawks in the area this morning. A friend I ran into on the way around said he saw six ferruginous hawks sitting on the ground together. And I saw another three.

I did see, finally, some of the pronghorn does and fawns this morning. At first I saw a doe with two fawns and then a few minutes later 16 does, fawns, and one buck came over the ridge to the east. The mating season is about to start, so soon the bucks will be acting like high school kids at the mall. They lose all caution and all common sense. But it's fun for me because they are much more visible. I wonder if the one with the poor eyesight will challenge me again this year? 

Anyway, I need to check with my readers to see if I'm approaching this rattlesnake thing correctly. You'll remember that a week or so ago, I showed some pictures of a rattler, a big rattler, that was crawling across the trail trying to get away from me. Here he is if you forgot.

If you remember, I said that he had only a couple of buttons on his rattle, which is a bit odd for a snake that big. He probably lost them to a predator he escaped from with his life. 

Well, this morning as I was finishing up my walk, I came across another slightly smaller rattler, again sunning on the road, trying to warm up. 

Now here's a picture of this rattler. I think it's a she, and I'll explain why.

Notice how curvaceous this snake is? No self respecting male rattler would have this many curves. And if you look closely, you can see that it has about six or seven buttons on its tail. 

Now here's my theory. The female has more curves and more buttons. The male has many fewer curves and only has a couple of buttons on his tail. In order to tell the sex of a rattler, you have to look and feel around under its tail. They generally don't take too kindly to that.

Having lived with a female of the species for almost 30 years now, I can vouch for the fact that females can cause males to lose their buttons. I've been looney myself now for several years now.

Here's a poem I wrote several years ago to tell of one of my first encounters with a rattler. I walked up on this one on a very quiet Sunday morning, not expecting it to be there. It got my attention.

Brothers under the skull
The snake 
into a coil 
and rattles.

I freeze, 
heart racing,
breath shallow.

Two primitive, reptilian brains clash 
for a second or two—fight or fly?
Then my rational mind returns,
embarrassed by its frenzied retreat.

I laugh, move off a few steps,
beg the snake's pardon, saying 
I mean no harm.

Not having man's high-order brain, 
the snake stands alert, fierce, 
tasting the threat, ready 
to attack or be attacked. 

Two minutes, danger past, 
the snake uncoils and slides off 
through the tawny grass. 

Its camouflage perfect, 
the snake magically 
leaving no trace 
but the dancing grass.

© 1998, 2009 Art Elser 

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

This will make you envious

I finally got together with my friend, Dave Murray, for a hike around the Plains Conservation Center. He's been after me for a while to take him out there, but between our schedules and other family stuff, we've only now gotten to do it. And we had a ball.

In an earlier post, I mentioned a female coyote who followed me for a mile or so as I walked north along one trail at PCC. She started by wuffing at me, then started wuffing and barking, and finally wuffing, barking, and howling. Well, she must be in love with me because she came trotting up out of the reeds along Tollgate Creek where, I suspect she has a den with her pups, and trotted up halfway on the ridge to the east and followed Dave and me, wuffing, barking, and howling. Here she is on that first day.

That was fun. If you look closely just beyond the howling coyote, you can see a prairie dog standing up watching the whole thing, probably wondering what in the world is going on.

We didn't see any rattlers on this trip, but did get to see a couple of friendly red-tailed hawks who flew directly over us to give us some great views of coloring and markings.

Now, closer to home. A couple of weeks ago, as I walked my pooch, Principessa, we heard a lot of chittering and squeaking in a tree just over our head. I looked and found what I expected, a flock of bushtits. Bushtits are tiny birds, just a few inches long that travel in flocks of up to 40 and gather in trees to eat insects from leaves and branches.

On Saturday, this past weekend, I heard a flock in our neighborhood. I went out, and found them in our linden on the front lawn. I ran in to get my camera, hoping they wouldn't fly off before I got back. They were still there and I got a few pics.

These little guys are smaller than a chickadee and flit around more and faster. I had a devil of a time getting them to hold still long enough to find them, focus the camera, and then catch the picture. I finally had half a dozen picture that I kept, throwing away three times that many in which there were blurs or no bird at all.

And now for the news to make you envious. Kath and I have our 30th wedding anniversary coming up this month. For many years, Kath has been after me to take a ride in a Stearman, an old biplane used by the US Navy and Army Air Force in WW II as a trainer. It's an open cockpit, leather helmet and goggle, scarf flowing in the wind airplane, one I've wanted to fly in for almost my whole life.

Here's a pic I stole from the website of the guy, Eric, with whom I'll be flying. And the airplane in which I'll be flying. I will call him when I finish with this blog to set up an appointment for the flight. I have 4700 hours of flying time, all in an earlier life I had, but this flight will be very special. I'll take pics and write about it in my next blog.