Clair McFarland: Defying Gravity In A Wheeling Death Machine

Clair McFarland writes, "That’s the thing about a small aircraft and a brother pilot. You can fly over the rooftops that matter, instead of hurtling toward California over a patchwork quilt while a baby howls behind you and your seat neighbor suppresses a barf."

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Clair McFarland

September 07, 20234 min read

Clair new column shot

All I wanted was to stay on the ground.  

But The Husband had this idea that we were all waking up early to fly in his brother’s four-seater plane.  

My brother-in-law is a cautious person with a checklist. He’s very wise. He’s a flight instructor. He bakes his pizza outside in a brick oven. Surely I could fly with him.  

And that’s not all. He and the Husband are two of the many grandsons of Tim Coleman, the crop-dusting, coyote-gunning legend of Fremont County. When he got bored, Coleman arm-wrestled giants for money in dank saloons. Surely I could fly with his grandson.  

But the older I get, the worse I am about heights. Shaky ladders and sheer cliffsides rattle my organs.  

I will still camp up on the stargazing fort The Husband built for us, but only because if I camped on the ground, the mountain lions might eat me.  

My plan was to leave for a jog the moment we got to the runway.  

“I know what you’re thinking,” said The Husband as I laid out my running clothes for the next morning. “But you should try flying. When will you get another chance to buzz around Riverton like that?”  

That’s the thing about a small aircraft and a brother pilot. You can fly over the rooftops that matter, instead of hurtling toward California over a patchwork quilt while a baby howls behind you and your seat neighbor suppresses a barf.  

Which can happen with commercial flight.  

Aurora rose from her fiery bed, as Homer would say, shrieking certain death to the private plane on the tarmac. We shuffled the boys out of bed. They were awed at the sight of that little Bonanza.  

I soon watched my brother-in-law vanish skyward with The Husband and my twin sons in his plane.   

“Mom,” said my middleborn son, who waited in a lawn chair for his own turn to fly. “Are you gonna do it?” 

I sighed.  

“C’mon, Mom,” said Firstborn. “You’ll regret it if you don’t.”  

I thought of the earth, with its friendly dust, its baked honeysuckle and its parched wood-bridge scents colliding on the crazed eddies of an afternoon storm.  

“I’m a mud girl,” I moped.  

“Yeah, but – “ Middleborn fumbled for some irrefutable logic “ – it’s an airplane.”   

I could be running, I thought. I could be scuffing up the hills.  

The plane landed and The Husband and the twins disembarked. It was my turn to go up, with my two oldest sons.  

My brother-in-law helped us into the plane and made sure we were buckled. He had me hold his checklist while I wondered if my bones would splinter, or pulverize on impact.  

He tried twice to restart the plane. It stuttered and died.  

“Just so you know, that’s perfectly normal,” he said. “It always has trouble starting right after a flight.”  

Because I had not written a will, I realized, The Husband would give my salamander to the neighbor kids. 

The plane roared to life. My pilot fiddled its gizmos 18 times. We lumbered out to the runway, thundered forward and, in one moment of cottony weightless unreality, we left the earth.  

Gravity renounced its bounty on us.  

Beneath us rolled the hills where, as a child, my sister wrecked our three-wheeler and made me promise not to tell our dad.  

On the border, gnarly overgrown wilds beat against the town. Only our sidewinding river held them back.   

My mother-in-law’s perfect little home pierced the sky like praying hands. My dad’s shop gleamed.  

My own house hunkered between three hills and hoped the world would quit knocking.  

And I realized that, here in Riverton, we are very like the land that shapes us. Rough, battered, seared and gritty. Scarred with the paths we’ve etched along the way. Guarding random bits of beauty. Beating back some senseless wilderness from invading our flawed, treasured stretch of home.   

The plane circled back to the runway and jostled down to earth.  

“You OK?” asked my brother-in-law.  

I nodded. And I beamed.  

It wouldn’t have been a bad way to die.  

Clair McFarland can be reached at Clair@CowboyStateDaily.com.

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Clair McFarland

Crime and Courts Reporter