Less than sixty degrees floated in the early fall air as we pedaled between yellow-green aspens with leaves whispering about changing. We’d ridden 30 miles to lunch in Timberon. The last 15 were downhill, prompting a joke to turn in to reality – we hitched a ride back up. Just below the summit, the young Californian let us out of his pick-up so we could ride the last 15 hilly miles back to Cloudcroft. Of course the wind had shifted from headwind on the southbound leg to headwind on the northbound return, adding even more challenge to the high altitude hills. A large brown bird lumbered across my path as if flying were a chore. An image from grade school crossed my mind – a turkey with tail feathers spread. Sandi concurred – I’d almost hit an airborne wild turkey. It reminded me of our road trip last month and a story Sandi told.
Some years ago Sandi bumped into a pilot training instructor while were they both out running. The young man had been married since Sandi knew him in pilot training, and had just found out they were pregnant with their first child. Two weeks later a turkey vulture broke through the windshield of his T-38 while he was flying at low altitude and killed him.
Sandi and I didn’t have time to think much as a flock of turkey vultures launched just in front of us on the highway, and one slammed into the windshield. Both of our next thought was, Thank God that didn’t come through. The next mile a cop stopped us, citing the windshield (and maybe the speed just a little). He and Sandi talked a little as I dug through everything for the truck’s paperwork. We’d just picked it up from shipment from Korea and had only US Forces Korea temporary license plates, and a stack of elusive papers. Before I delivered the thick folder, the cop had found out we were Air Force pilots and had hit the turkey vulture just a mile back. By the end of the conversation, he knew that I was the first female stealth pilot, that we’d both flown F-16s, and that we both had friends killed in jets – Sandi’s friend by a turkey vulture in one. He let us off with just a warning.
Friends have asked me how we deal with such things in our profession. Sandi’s friend who was killed, and mine who mistook up for down and didn’t realize it until it was too late, serve as reminders to us to take today and live it. To enjoy it. To invite opportunity in when it knocks. To sidestep convention and be spontaneous, even goofy. To pause from our busy schedule to laugh at Chili playing with a pig ear. It’s stinky and soggy from being chewed, but that doesn’t hinder her pure joy. She picks it up and tosses it then leaps after it, skidding to a stop with her butt high in the air and shoulders crouching as if ready to pounce, should the pig ear try to escape. She pauses, pounces, shakes her head so hard her feet dance to keep her upright, and tosses again. She is our comic relief even on the worst of days.
I hope you can take a moment to enjoy the moment; life is about those moments, eh?