“Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.” – Leonardo DaVinci
As a writer, ideas are gold. One can spend countless hours mining and sifting through the raw materials of life for that one nugget which will serve as the basis for a song or story. And then sometimes you’re just going through your day when you trip over an idea and fall headlong into inspiration.
Several years ago, I got a call from my friend Brian, an avid outdoorsman who had been learning the sport of paragliding. For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, paragliding involves strapping one’s person into a harness attached to a banana shaped kite before proceeding to run off the side of a perfectly good mountain. Turns out Brian was training in Flagstaff at the same time I happened to be playing a gig in Phoenix and, since I had a couple of days off, I decided to drive up and watch the action.
It was a beautifully bright blue day at the site where a young instructor worked with a handful of students. At the top of the mountain, they would talk and practice through various techniques before, one by one, raising their kites and taking off towards the waiting valley below. I hopped in the truck with the instructor and rode down the dusty red road to meet the students at the bottom and ferry them back to the top. After the second or third trip down, he pulled me aside.
“Normally, I’ve got a driver here for the day, but he was called in sick, which is why I’ve been doing it myself. I sure would rather fly than drive, and you seem like a pretty responsible guy. You mind taking over and driving us back up the mountain? I can’t pay you, but If you want I’ll take you flying at the end of the day.”
“I’d be happy to”, I said. “I’m riding anyway. I’d just as soon drive.”
“Be real careful”, he said. “It’s not a great road”.
“That’s okay, I’m not a great driver”, I said as I grabbed the keys and headed towards the extended cab dually pickup that would be my office for the rest of the day.
For the next few hours, I watched as each flier left the safety of the mountain peak then maneuvered my way down to the bottom in time to watch them land at the designated pick-up spot only to repeat the process over and over again. Finally, towards the end of the day, it was my turn. I strapped myself into the harness of a tandem kite with the instructor behind and after a few minutes of training, mostly on what not to do, we were ready.
Starting at the flat plateau of the mountain we leaned backwards against the weight of the harness as the kite filled with air. The guide worked the rigging until the kite was directly above and we turned to face the cliff. His instructions had been simple enough.
“Stand as steady as you can until I give the word and then run, and don’t stop running.”
If I make it sound graceful, it was anything but. As the kite filled with air, we were pulled both by the earth and sky; caught in a powerful tug of war between gravity and the wind. I struggled hard to keep my balance and footing in the rocky sand all the while praying, “God don’t let me screw this up”
When the command came, I ran. Since I was in the front harness, I could not see anything save for the gradually receding mountain as the tug of war continued. And then quite suddenly it stopped.
“You can quit running, now”, I heard from behind me. I looked down and realized my feet were still moving as the ground and gravity quickly fell away. I pulled myself up into the seat and the struggle was over. I was weightless. The wind had won.
The next few minutes were among the most amazing of my life. I could try and describe it, but words would fail. For the briefest of time, I was no longer bound to the mother earth that had always been my home. We soared; We dove; We circled, glided and rose high above the cactus and brush below, the only sound the wind and my own heart beating in my ears.
Later that evening, in the comfort and safety of the hotel room, I picked up my guitar and began describing the feeling through song. In this new experience, It seems I had stumbled onto a nugget of truth and inspiration. Sometimes, songwriting is struggling, plodding and painfully slow work. And then sometimes it is simply trying to stay out of the way while the song writes itself.
“God, don’t let me screw this up”, I thought as the words and melody flowed.
(To listen to the song click on the video below. To purchase click on the cart tab above. Thanks for listening.)