I have a neighbor and friend named Field Rider. Since moving into the village, I have gotten to know him better. He lives right down the road from us. I frequently walk across his property with Mocha and Sadie, our two English Shepherds. One of Field’s many talents is being able to fly a plane. We have talked about flying together but until today, we had not made it happen.
Field sent me a text mid-afternoon asking me if I wanted to fly. He told me to wear a bathing suit. I jumped at his offer. Field picked me up at 5:30. We drove to Twitchell’s Airport in Turner. Field has two planes. Today the plan was to go out in his float plane. He keeps it tied up on the Androscoggin River. Field pulled into a dirt road at the airport. This turned into a grass track. This took us to the bank of the river where Field’s 1976 Citabria two seat float plane was waiting for us.
I followed him down to the river, excited to be going up in a small plane. I had not done this for ten years. I took off my shoes. I felt the mud of the riverbank ooze through my toes. It had rained before our arrival. The ground was soft and warm under my feet. The storm clouds had slid away leaving a rainbow in their wake. The sun was hiding behind a remaining cloud-bank. Rays of its light shot out from the edges of the cloud.
Field told me to climb into the plane and settle myself into my seat. It was located behind the pilot’s seat. I rinsed off my feet and stepped onto a strut below the wing. I climbed into my seat and fastened my seat belt. I had a secondary control stick between my legs. There were also secondary foot petals flanking Field’s seat. Field informed me that in the advent of his death in the air, I had everything I needed to fly the plane at my disposal. I hoped that would not be necessary.
We both put on our headsets. Field explained what was going to happen. He did an equipment check. He started the engine. We began to taxi into the main channel of the river. With my headset on, I could focus on the visuals and not be distracted by the roar of the engine. I once again glanced up at the rainbow as we began to skim over the water. In what seemed like no time at all we were airborne. The river receded below us. The waters of Androscoggin Lake dotted with islands its shores an unbroken wall of green forest. As we flew Field pointed out features below through our headsets. I was so happy every cell of mine was smiling.
We flew over the village of Leeds. It looked like a model of what a New England village should look like. It had a white steeple church, a cluster of buildings and homes all surrounded by fields and forests. The sun was peaking out from behind a cloud off to our west. Below I saw a herd of about twenty beef cows, little black dots on a field of green. After about ten minutes in the air, Field pointed out Lothrup Island. It was our destination for today’s adventure. His intention was to land on the lake adjacent to the island and then to beach the float plane. We descended to the surface of the lake. Soon the water was just below our floats. The floats then made contact with the water. Jets of spray shot up into the air. Field throttled down the engine. We coasted onto the black sands of the island’s beach.
Field hopped out. He gave the plane a tug to firmly beach the floats. I shed my shirt, grabbed my towel and joined him on the beach. He explained the origin of the black sand. I could not recall a time I had ever seem a black sand beach in Maine. Field said he had learned that where we were standing millions of years in the past had been the site of an active volcano. The black sand was from an eruption of that volcano. My bare feet already had taken on a dusting of ancient blank sand.
I waded into the water of Androscoggin Lake with Field right behind me. I dove into the lake and swam under water for several pulls of my arms. The water was warm. When I came up for air, I looked around me. I marveled at what this summer afternoon had presented to me. The lake was surrounded by trees. My vantage point offered me no sign of humans. No boat traffic broke the stillness or rippled the surface of the lake. I was in heaven. I love to fly. I love to swim. Never had I ever combined these two passions of mine.
We swam out a ways. I found a submerged rock. I sat in water up to my chest. The air and the water were very close in temperature which was around eighty. Field and I chatted about this and that. We were both enjoying this day and each other’s company. After a pleasant interlude, we headed back to the shore and the waiting Citabria. I stood on the warm black sand as Field pushed the plane out and turned it around.
With the plane headed out into the lake, I rinsed off my feat, wrapped my wet bathing suit in my towel and climbed back into the plane. Field did the same. He fired up the engine. We taxied out. Field revved the engine. We were soon skimming over the lake with plumes of spray fanning out to each side. We became airborne. We climbed to nine hundred feet. The sky was a golden hue from the setting sun. The air was calm. The plane flew straight and smoothly towards home base.
I felt so blessed to be where I was with my friend at the controls of this magic carpet of a plane. We descended to the surface of the river. When Field cut the engine and we were once again on the banks of the Androscoggin, I hopped out with my heart full of gratitude and joy.