The sounds and hearts of the winged


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.

p1070195And then, the hummingbird arrived, an F-16, if you will, in miniature.

p1070200p1070199p1070205It 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.


photo by cheri sabraw, 2017


About Cheri

Writer, photograph, artist, mother, grandmother and wife.
This entry was posted in Life, My childhood, My photography, Nature photography, People and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to The sounds and hearts of the winged

  1. Richard says:

    How proud you and Steve must rightly be of Matthew. He is modest, brave and has a surpassing flair for English captures sights and emotions experienced from his F16.

    And your marvellous photos adorn his words.

    • Cheri says:

      Thank you, Richard. This nephew is not one of Steve’s sons. This is Ron’s brother’s older son. The younger son is also in the AF and is stationed at Spangdalum AFB in Germany. He is in charge of the flight line. Both of these guys will retire AF and earn a good pension. We are very proud of their service to our country. If you would like to read one of Matt’s essays, let me know and I will send it privately. He has given me permission.

  2. wkkortas says:

    I wish I could use the language that well, and I’m not the one putting an F-16 through its paces.

    • Cheri says:

      I find it fascinating that a man who pilots a machine like the F-16, who is right-brained and wired, is also left-brained. That Matt can use language as well as he does, and find time to put his thoughts down on paper even though he has a wife and two small children AND focus on his missions in Asia–quite astounding. But my experience teaching gifted people is that they are often multi-talented…musically, mathematically, scientifically…

      Then there are those who are either right-brained or left-brained, like me……

  3. shoreacres says:

    Beautifully written observations. There are F-18s that fly out of Ellington, and just once in a while, late at night, they’ll turn on the afterburners. It’s a sight to see — although they can’t play around too much in this neighborhood, what with NASA, Houston, and the oil refineries all around.

    One of my cousin’s sons is a Navy pilot. He flew off a carrier in the Red Sea and other places, and then came to Texas and began training a new generation of pilots at Kingsville. One of the most remarkable Thanksgivings our family has had was with about 20 of “the kids” in Kingsville. That was the year I saw a tailhook up close for the first time. I looked at Kelly, looked at the tailhook, and then looked back at him. I suspect he read my expression perfectly, and knew what I was visualizing. He just grinned.

  4. Cheri says:

    Such talented young people, Kelly and Matt. Here in Goodyear, Arizona, two miles from Luke Air Force Base, we have a daily alarm clock in the form F-16 and F-35’s taking off exactly at 8:00 am. Before we bought the house, we had to sign a disclosure that we knew an Air Force Base was so close. Funny, when I am trying to put a 3-foot putt in the hole as a plane is flying over, I blame my lousy putting on those kids who are in the sky protecting our freedoms.

    I love watching the diamond formation in the air where each wing peels off from the lead.

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