Iowa Writes

STEVEN PATTERSON
from Aground and Aloft


I fly in deep river canyons and come to rest where flat land is scarce. My day is a hopscotch route, up and down, up and down. For the dwellers of remote outposts I am a taxi service, mail carrier and delivery van. On occasion I am called on to be an ambulance driver, an emergency outlet arcing over the granite peaks. Once I have been a hearse of last resort, bearing out the body of a drowned river runner as cargo in the tail, cinched up tight in his sleeping bag. But these are details that don't change my waking day. I attend to the variables around me: the steep slopes, the jutting trees, updrafts and crosswinds and density altitude. My importance doesn't lie in what I carry or where I go. I am responsible for my skill with the yoke, a knowledge of flaps and throttle, an eye for the condition of the air. It is my task to settle the machine to the earth in impossible places, like alighting at the bottom of a soup bowl.

I fly in deep river canyons and come to rest where flat land is scarce. My day is a hopscotch route, up and down, up and down. For the dwellers of remote outposts I am a taxi service, mail carrier and delivery van. On occasion I am called on to be an ambulance driver, an emergency outlet arcing over the granite peaks. Once I have been a hearse of last resort, bearing out the body of a drowned river runner as cargo in the tail, cinched up tight in his sleeping bag. But these are details that don't change my waking day. I attend to the variables around me: the steep slopes, the jutting trees, updrafts and crosswinds and density altitude. My importance doesn't lie in what I carry or where I go. I am responsible for my skill with the yoke, a knowledge of flaps and throttle, an eye for the condition of the air. It is my task to settle the machine to the earth in impossible places, like alighting at the bottom of a soup bowl.

I make runs out of Cascade, where I work for Chimp Atherton. His name is on the hangar and the planes. My husband, Ron, and I hired on eighteen years ago, when it was just the three of us. Today there are four pilots, Chimp not included, as well as two mechanics and three women who run the office and take radio calls. Now, in the summer, is our busiest season. Every pilot and every plane will work steady through until the aspen groves turn yellow and quaky. Then we will bolt skis to a couple of the Cessnas and deliver groceries and mail to some of the ranches that get snowed-in. But the work is slower in winter. Two of the summer pilots head down to Arizona for the winter and run a flight school, and then appear again when the rivers here are high with snowmelt.

I prefer the taxi and supply flights, ferrying cargo around, traveling routes I can see in my sleep. Chimp likes some of the fancy flying, chartering for the Forest Service Aerial Fire Attack when the ridges start to burn. Powell, a moustache with a man attached, likes to get up there and tool around for hours, so he volunteers for the Fish and Wildlife trips to monitor gray wolves they have marked with radio collars. I'm not much for the adventure these days, though. When I go up I want to know exactly when I'm coming down again. I want to picture the landing before I ever take off.

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About Iowa Writes

Since 2006, Iowa Writes has featured the work of Iowa-identified writers (whether they have Iowa roots or live here now) and work published by Iowa journals and publishers on The Daily Palette. Iowa Writes features poetry, fiction, or nonfiction twice a week on the Palette.

In November of 2008, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Iowa City, Iowa, the world's third City of Literature, making the community part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.

Iowa City has joined Edinburgh, Scotland and Melbourne, Australia as UNESCO Cities of Literature.

Find out more about submitting by contacting iowa-writes@uiowa.edu


STEVEN PATTERSON

Steven Patterson grew up on the California coast and lived for many years in the high desert of Idaho. He graduated from the Iowa Writers' Workshop, where he was a Teaching-Writing Fellow, and has since returned there as a visiting professor. He now lives with his wife in Iowa City, where the mountains are just memories. "Aground and Aloft" was first published in The Iowa Review's Spring 2004 issue.

Read the rest of the story here.

This page was first displayed
on June 27, 2006

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