by cheri sabraw
When I was ten, I spent most of a morning fashioning a set of golden wings. Akin to making a kite, which my father Hugh had taught me to do, I designed a balsa wood skeleton, added a thin veneer of paper using yesterday’s San Francisco Chronicle and then pressed each seam down with Elmer’s glue. I had been saving real birds’ wings, discarded from sparrows and blue jays, and so began the laborious task of gluing each one down on my creation. The wings done, I sprayed them with glittery gold paint.
If only they would carry me to the heavens, I speculated, looking up to a cloudless cerulean sky.
I still look to the sky, both day and night, for inspiration and reassurance that something more than the banal chitter-chatter of the day exists.
And often, I am rewarded not only with milky galaxies and twinkly planets, but often with creatures of iron and feathers.
Yesterday, waiting patiently on our desert patio, camera in hand, hoping for a hummingbird arrival at my feeder, I was awakened from my intense focus, along with the comfort and silence of the rocks and cacti, by the thunder of F-16s, their deep roar in take-off from several miles away at Luke Air Force Base. I thought of the bravery and talent of my nephew Matthew, an F-16 pilot trained there and now stationed in Japan after a six-month deployment to Afghanistan.
A petite and sensitive desert bunny heard them too.
Four iron birds heading to Utah, no doubt, in a formation of precision.
My nephew Matthew, a pilot of one of these machines, has described to me what it felt like in the cockpit over Afghanistan:
The best way to see God’s creation is in a fighter jet – a single seat fighter jet. The best fighter jet to see it in is an F-16 in which we can fly low to the ground and maintain energy in a turn while sneaking through tight spaces.
In the last half hour of our four-hour sortie, it was as if the earth was on exhibition
before our eyes. The morning light brought out the color of the bronze corridors through the river-carved canyons with immense majesty and clarity.
What I experienced in my cockpits is something that Time’s privileged kings will never know. The exalting adventure of weaving in and out of these
passageways through the rock is more intimately inspiriting than a high mountain sunrise through the misting dawn.
The Viper, my steel Pegasus, armed to the teeth, carried me through some of the most enchanting and bedazzling land that I can imagine a man ever laying eyes on at 450 knots. We were riders in a way today that no one will ever be able to duplicate and I hope that this experience has been permanently woven into my fabric as a man.
I sat in my own cockpit here on my patio, ears pricked and lens focused. Surprising, I thought, that this little bird stays gripped on his perch with all the racket.
And then, the hummingbird arrived, an F-16, if you will, in miniature.
It was time to refuel, just as Matt does now, mid-air and then off again, looking down at the sand swirls in the baranca.
Matthew described his view through the Bamiyan as he and his partner flew low through one of the canyons:
The equalized tune, made for our hearts, resonated for 15 minutes at roughly 500 feet and 450 knots. Velvet green foliage of the river’s shores scrolled beneath us placidly on our weaving journey. The walls on each side of the canyon turned in unison out in front of us, forming symmetric bends that subsequently blurred by.
At one point it opened up to a wide, lush and patterned agricultural plateau. I was so low I could see the details of walkers. Two women pacing in unison along a sandstone road, flowing trails of vivid violet in their veiled burqas went down my right shoulder as I knife-edged into another avenue through the ancient rock – thunder ,clapping my respect for their authenticity as the sun glinted off my canopy in a flitting wink that blended into my wing flash.