When I’m in my own home town, which is a good portion of the time, I walk a lot. It’s an old habit, one I adopted as a public school student.
My assigned school bus stop was two miles from my parent’s house. The bus stop was on a hard road, but our home sat very near the end of a twisty, rutted, dirt path that alternated between states of dusty, muddy, or ice covered. It very much resembled the old adage about long walks except that it was only uphill one way.
My siblings and I still refer to our parent’s house as “The Mountain.”For the last quarter-century I’ve lived in the suburbs of a small city, which is to say, I live about a mile and a half from the downtown core of Winter Haven, Florida. The asphalt and heavy traffic tend to relieve me of my desire to walk, but I do it anyway. Most of the miles I log are on one of four treadmills that face a wall of glass that looks out over 3rd Street NW, not far from Central Park.
It’s not exactly a soothing nature walk, but the regular exertion does help keep my body weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels all down in the neighborhood my family physician and I consider to be acceptable.
When I’m away from home I walk just as much, although I seek out the more rural pathways when I can. That’s the case this week as I hole up at my employer’s headquarters in historic Frederick, Maryland.
The offices I spend my day in are within a stone’s throw of the runway at KFDK. The hotel where I lay my head is on the aptly named Corporate Court. Yet nearby — just across the street, in fact — is a small oasis of green grass and wild woods where I set out in the evening to ease my mind as I burn a calorie or two.
I discovered this place totally by accident a few years ago. While I walk I encounter deer, who are leery of me, but stand their ground, munching soft, Maryland grasses as they keep a wary eye on this two-legged intruder.
Last night I didn’t encounter any deer. That’s a first for me here. But I did run into a rabbit. Small, brown, not more than two feet from the path I walked on, and far more interested in the greenery it was having for dinner than it was afraid of me. It nibbled while I passed, apparently unafraid of the beast that weighed more than 50 times as much only a stride or two away.
The animals I encounter act on instinct. They value the food available to them while the light of the setting sun still illuminates their little corner of the world. I, on the other hand, am fascinated and enthralled when in close proximity to nature. Real nature. Wild nature.
I am not alone in this fascination. Just recently I read of the problem National Forest Service Rangers have with tourists wandering up to wild animals, the interloper’s smartphone held at arm’s length, camera app at the ready.
If you’re taking a picture of a particularly fetching chipmunk, you’ll just annoy the Rangers. If on the other hand you’re creeping up on a bison who is feeling less than sociable, you may find yourself on the pointy end of a very sturdy horn, attached to the head of an animal who has not the least bit of interest in your personal well-being.
Nature is a true wonder, but it is not without risk.
Of course, my tendency to seek out and appreciate the allure of nature isn’t restricted to the viewing of fuzzy bunnies and adorable deer as the sun sets over the hills on the horizon. No.
I also enjoy the sense of accomplishment and wonder I get as I steer 110 galloping horses down the centerline of a runway, apply back pressure to the yoke, and feel the weight of the world fall away from my wheels. With altitude my mind is focused on the task at hand and the view below. The petty aggravations of everyday life fall away. I’m doing the impossible and I absolutely love it.
Flight in a fixed wing airplane calls out to me with all the power of that agitated bison as it prepares to stomp on another unwanted dinner guest. As it always has.
I fly because I can. I seek out the next flight because it soothes me. It gives me a sense of time and space that simply doesn’t exist when I’m on the ground. And, best of all, I have the education, the skill, the connections, and the opportunity to share that life-altering experience with pretty much anyone I want to share it with, at will.
Jack London wrote eloquently and viciously about the Call of the Wild. Those of us who have experienced nature up close can appreciate Jack’s work, and the emotional impact of the events that unfold in his stories.
Similarly, those of us who fly can relate to the power of nature, the almost unimaginable colors and the expansive scope of the world as it really is, rather than as it appears while we’re hunched over our desks, or standing behind a lawn mower, or waiting in the check-out line at the grocery store.
The real call of the wild isn’t hidden out there in the distance, too far, and too inconvenient for you to reach.
It’s in you. It’s in me. It’s supporting the wing of the airplane we climb into…or it will, if we can just get to rotation speed and grab a little more lift.
Ahhh, there it is. Where it always was. And now you’re a part of it again…as you were meant to be.