|The Entrance to the top of Harris Hill|
I hadn't really thought much about taking a ride in a glider until last year right around my birthday. Larry pastors just 15 minutes or so from Harris Hill which carries the honor and distinction of being the Soaring Capital of America. From April through October one can see sailplanes soaring high above Big Flats, a river valley aptly named because of the large expanse of flatland that sits amidst the hills of the Southern Tier. We have visited Harris Hill several times, sometimes sharing a bench at the overlook that gives way to a splendid view of the valley below. As beautiful as the setting is, however, the best part is catching it when the sailplanes are flying, coming off the cliff to our backs and returning by the same way, their white wings splendid against the blue sky.
|One of the sailplanes of Harris Hill|
I've always been intrigued with gliders. My dad was part of the 82nd's Glider Infantry in World War II. He would say very little about his experiences when I was growing up, but I knew enough to know that he'd flown over enemy lines more than once during his time in Europe. It wasn't until I was grown and married that he began to open up and talk about those harrowing flights into Normandy and Holland. The thought of a glider large enough to hold more than a dozen men, all their weaponry and a jeep piqued my interest all the more. The day would come when I would visit the D-Day Museum in New Orleans and see one for myself.
The National Soaring Museum is also there on top of Harris Hill, an aviation museum devoted exclusively to the history of gliders. It carries a number of the craft, the largest being the Waco glider, the kind that carried my father into enemy territory. My sisters tell me that he had visited the museum on Harris Hill at some point. I wonder how he felt when he entered the fuselage and sat on one of the benches. Did it bring him back to that day in June of 1944 when as a 21 year old he flew over the English Channel into Normandy? Or did it bring to mind that three-hour flight over the channel into Holland, the heat inside the canvas cavern making him sick to his stomach and hearing the pop, pop, pop of the flak as it hit the fabric. I wonder.
|The Waco combat glider of WWII|
I'm not sure exactly when I made the decision to take the ride. I just know that one day not too long ago I knew that it was time. In part it was for me, a longing to experience those quiet, still moments below the clouds and above the hills, being carried by the wind. But it was also in part for my dad, to honor him and to let him know, even though he's no longer here, that I haven't forgotten. I couldn't think of a better place to do that than at Harris Hill.
|The tow plane pulling us|
I can't adequately put into words how I felt at the moment the glider lifted off from that cliff. I immediately felt buoyant, and even with the tow plane pulling us for several minutes, the sensation was different from anything I've ever experienced in an airplane, even in the smaller ones that we used to fly to the islands. The view was extraordinary, my favorite autumn colors showing off as usual. I felt elation and with that came joy. It was something I had wanted to do and I did it. And then it was over, too soon. There was so much to see and I couldn't take it all in. Perhaps I'll do it again someday.
Afterwards we went through the museum and spent several minutes at the Waco combat glider from the war. We climbed in and sat on the benches and thought as best we could what it must have been like to be a young soldier riding in that thing, knowing that there was about a fifty-fifty chance of surviving the trip. My dad told me once they were dubbed flying coffins and unlike what I had flown earlier that day, unbelievably noisy. With no insulation the sounds of the elements, the roar of the tow plane's engines and the rat-a-tat of enemy fire did not make for a pleasant flight, so unlike what I had experienced on that sleek, beautiful bird-like craft just an hour earlier.
|Larry standing outside the Waco|
We left the museum and then parked at the foot of the drive leading up to the field and stood for a few minutes at the overlook, gazing down into the valley below. Beautiful. Early October in New York is magnificent, my favorite time of the year here. As lovely as it was, however, I didn't feel quite the same as I would have if I had taken in the view from that spot just a few hours earlier. I was now spoiled. I had seen it from a much higher place, giving me a tiny glimpse of how the Creator might just see all of this. It changed me a bit, grew me some too. Soaring will do that.
|Standing outside the glider with Larry after my ride|