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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A Bird’s Eye View


In distant view, Nantucket

         At 5:50a.m. the other morning, I found myself in a cab that was especially designed to accommodate disabled people.  I would have rejected the entire notion until I saw how very easy it was for this specialized mini-van to unfold a ramp, allowing my wheelchair to roll, unimpeded, into the back of the van. It was a fortuitous start to my trip.
         I arrived at sleepy Greene Airport  in Providence R.I. by 6:20a.m.. By 6:35a.m., I was seated in said wheelchair in a mini- gate (built for twelve) for the little puddle-jumper (a Cessna) to fly me from Providence to Nantucket. Our luggage and my wheelchair were stowed in the wings. A mother, her thirty-year old daughter and her three-year old grandson were the only other passengers.  I was delighted to be asked to sit in the co-pilot’s seat!
          I tucked in all my parts and managed to squeeze into the seat without inadvertently hitting a switch, turning a knob or pushing a pedal.  As we took off, I watched the speedometer spin until it was over 100 m.p.h. When I took my focus off for three seconds to look out the window, we were airborne. 
         Quickly, we passed over Newport, with its two bridges connecting it to the mainland.  There were hundreds of white dots in the water below and in the harbor.  It took a moment to register that they were boats. I have rarely seen so many at once.  The Elizabeth Islands slid under us before I could begin to name them.
Beloved Martha’s Vineyard Island
          In less than fifteen minutes, we had crossed sufficient land and coastline, and yes, water, that my beloved Island, Martha’s Vineyard, came into view.  Unconsciously, I fingered the gold charm I wear around my neck - a small Vineyard map that I have worn as a sort of talisman for thirty years.  From a bird’s eye view, Martha’s Vineyard appears to be a place of extensive coastline, densely forested territory and several small areas of congested population.  The perspective from 10,000 feet manages to erase the hustle and bustle and plain frustration of trying to function there in the summer.  The roads were not designed for crowds. The sidewalks were not intended for pedestrians walking four abreast. Nesting terns have to compete with beach-goers along State Beach in a habitat that is delicate and critical to their survival.  Yet, for all that, for all their frustrations with the chaos, the discourtesy, and the swollen population that spells summer, Vineyarders know that many of their livelihoods are wholly dependent on these very Island summer guests. I was first one myself in 1964. 
          From my co-pilot’s seat, I twisted and turned shooting images on my Canon.
The light was what most astounded me. The very qualities of blues and greys stacked in bands from horizon to the heavens were the same at this altitude as they were from my little third floor condo on Inkwell Beach.  It was a grey, drizzly day. Out of the mist, pools of light would spill from the sky leaving pooling circumferences of light wherever the sun burst through the low ceiling.  With views as stunning as these, it is easy to believe in the hand of a Higher Being.
          Nantucket came into view before we had fully passed over the Vineyard.  It was unfamiliar in many ways; it was much smaller, the spaces between large and larger homes were greater.  There was only one real centralized seat of population evident from above.  However, the ferry, the lighthouses and the expanses of pristine beach were reminiscent of home. We were making the last leg of our landing before I was ready to come down.  I watched closely as the pilot adjusted the fuel mix and headings and airspeed. He caught me studying him and looked puzzled. Over the roar of the propellers, I wasn’t about to shout my observation that he seemed to do these rituals on his Cessna with practiced ease. I gave the little boy an encouraging thumbs up. With that, I lifted my camera and started to shoot.  I wanted to catch the precise moment we touched down, when it feels like the earth was rising to greet us.

Flawless touchdown
Our touchdown was instructor-perfect, there was a whisper of a bump and then the pilot was pulling back hard on the yoke and our speed diminished.  I watched the pilot’s apparent legerdemain right until the ground jockey was standing in front of the nose of our plane with his orange batons crossed.  Ride over.

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