By Roger Barbee
Being retired has several advantages, and one that Mary Ann and I have come to enjoy most is having no rush in the morning in getting out on time, in order to get somewhere on time, in order to do someone's bidding on time. Instead, we drink coffee, converse, relish our shared time, and enjoy the coming of day with our cats as the dogs explore the smells of whatever came into their acre during the night.
Mary Ann and I watch the sunlight move over Massanutten while we listen to the chorus of birdsong at the feeders, fence, and fountain. We hold this morning ritual in one of several locations, but the most used is the screened porch because it faces the mountain and large pasture across Old Bethel Road, and we can clearly hear the fountain, the Eastern meadowlarks that greet the coming day from a fence post across the road, and we can watch folks rushing out to work as we used to.
It is a fine spot to watch the day begin, but not fully isolated from the clamor of day's beginning. Thus, one morning recently I was not startled to hear a motor between us and the mountain. As the motor kept running I assumed it was a truck pulling up a hill on Palmyra Church Road across the North Fork, or someone coming out our road. However, after hearing a steady whine that seemed to stay in one general location, not receding like a vehicle, I said to Mary Ann, "It sounds like a boat on the river, but that's impossible because the river isn't deep enough for a boat."
So, not forced by any schedule, we sat and listened, trying to reach some consensus on what the motor could belong to. She thought it was probably a plane, but we saw none, and the whine stayed in one general area southeast of our house, near Red Banks. After several cups of coffee, we agreed to disagree about what it was or could be and to read the Daily before my morning bike ride.
The next morning, sitting on the porch sharing the coming of day, we heard it again. It was just like yesterday - a low whine of a motor that stayed in one general area south of us but next to the mountain. It moved, or seemed to, but we could see nothing. Once again, we each pontificated as only someone without a good idea can, about what it could be.
Then, we saw it: a large piece of orange or red material was turning in the morning light, highlighted by the mountain behind it. It was a person in a glider of some sort moving in the calm of early morning. High enough to be seen, but not airplane high, the vehicle swirled and turned and glided across the land, turning and moving in the still, morning air.
We sat and watched it, this marvelous flying machine, until it would disappear from sight, but we could hear the small engine and it would then reappear playing across the sky like a bird.
Mary Ann and I sat, sipping coffee, watching this person soar in his or her machine, hoping each time it disappeared beyond the tree line that it would return so that we could see it glide through the morning stillness. It had become something almost magical, and we enjoyed the mystery of this person and the machine and what exactly it was because all we could see was the large parachute and hear the small motor. So, just like with the meadowlark's song, we did not have to understand the flying machine to appreciate its grace and beauty, and for the longest time that second morning we heard the meadowlark's greeting and watched the marvelous flying machine, somewhat in awe of both for their beauty and mystery.
For the remainder of the week, we did not see the machine, but one morning we thought we heard its engine off against Massanutten, but the meadowlark was there every morning, making his morning music. The next week, I asked a good friend and neighbor who is an early riser like us, "Hey, have you seen that flying machine on the mountain? We saw it twice last week."
"Oh, yea," he answered. That's so and so...." and he went on to explain who it was flying, gave details of the machine and how it worked, why he was flying it, and where he took off and landed. He told me how the pilot had a mounted camera and if we would just get on face book (that is another story), we could see film of the early morning flights.
The next morning, as Mary Ann and I sat on the porch drinking coffee, rubbing our cats, watching dogs sniff their acre, traffic moving out on our road, and conversing, I told her what I had been told. When I finished, the meadowlark began its morning melody from one of the fence posts, and I was reminded how there is still mystery in the valley.
Roger Barbee is a retired educator who lives in Edinburg with his wife Mary Ann, four dogs and five cats. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.