Never before or since have I experienced such a sense of exhilaration as I did in a balloon high above the Rio Grande. I have flown before and even in small planes but the sight of Albuquerque from the air from the basket of a hot-air balloon is something I will never forget. It was my mother’s 70th birthday and we arranged this journey as a special treat. The sound from up there is silent except for the whoosh of the escaping gas that keeps you aloft. I thought it would make a wonderful painting and being above the grid frees you from thinking about the world in squares. I always thought of the river as following a straight line like I-25 but the vast desert wildness and the silver snaking river are etched in my memory.
So too was the crash landing. Not perhaps that dramatic but we did not gently float down and set into a nice grassy area. We hit the dirt on the edge of mesa and dragged along bumping and bouncing to a stop. The pilot shouted “hang on tight” and we gripped the edges of the basket. I worried so for my mother who had fragile bones and had just recovered from a broken arm. But we remarkably remained unscathed.
I wonder at people who love to balloon. There really is no control over your flight or landing or very little. A big gust of wind can blow you into power lines or traffic or a dozen other scenarios. I imagine I am not giving enough credit to the grinning man in my pictures who flew us that day. I imagine there is quite a lot of skill navigating the invisible currents of the sky. But you hear about the accidents and mishaps every year from balloon fiesta.
And then the founder of the ABQ Balloon Fiesta went missing for a year over the Pacific only to be found finally or what was left of him. It seems so dangerous and honestly…never since, never again. That rough landing was enough for me. Or maybe I grow more cautious as I get older and don’t wish to gamble on things that risky.
My mother though…she was always up for adventure. Not in a flashy or fool hardy way but in her quiet joy. She took copious pictures of balloons and she painted balloons for years after. I like to think about how she felt weightless and soaring. She always said her favorite dream and one that repeated itself frequently was flying. She would fly around the house horizontally arms out about 4 feet off the ground. She said she loved that feeling and I know she must have. She tried so hard to be lighter her whole adult life. Dieting and starving herself. The irony of course was in her last two years of life she couldn’t stop losing weight until finally her frame couldn’t hold her to this earth.
This time of year in New Mexico flocks of geese fly overhead. I can hear them honking from inside and I run outside to see them as they fly overhead in their V formation. There is always one straggling behind bringing up the rear a little rag tag. I noticed one of these bands of birds the day my mother died and I imagined her soaring with them her vanguard to heaven. But now I think my mother is bringing up the rear. Getting the hang of flying.