Friday, December 2, 2011

The Balloon

We are not restrained by the fear of mortality when we are young. We drink deeper of life, our entire being open to experience and to trying and to feeling. When I look back at risks I took in my youth I think we are born with nine lives. We use up eight of them in our teens and early twenties. How else to explain surviving the daring adventures of youth? Then one day we are standing at the top of a steep and icy slope, skis on and body ready, and realize we are down to the last life. One mistake and it is the end of our ride. We push off down the slope but now our experience has the taint of restriction. Where once our whole being was dedicated to living, now a part of us is given to surviving. Surely I still had some lives left the day I followed the balloon.

I must have been about 14 years old. It was a hot summer day relaxing into a warm summer evening. A soft roaring sound above the house brought me out onto the deck to see a hot air balloon floating by. The sound that alerted me was the flame used to heat the gas in the balloon and keep it aloft. I ran out into the yard to follow but quickly lost sight of the balloon as the woods surrounded me. Following the direction of the balloon I ran up the road to the stable where I kept my horse, Fundi. The barn there was surrounded with open fields offering a better chance of spotting the enticing rainbow orb. From the stable the balloon could be seen drifting out over 80 rolling acres of back pasture. I ran into the barn and pulled Fundi out of his stall. I had a lead rope with snaps on both ends which I clipped to each side of his halter to use as reins. We headed for the back pasture where I jumped on and the hunt began. No time for a saddle or bridle or the balloon might get away. I was dressed as any kid on a hot evening, shorts, tee shirt and sneakers.

Fundi was a retired racehorse, a narrow bodied thoroughbred with a bit of a hot disposition. The prospect of galloping across the fields that evening was a fine dessert for his day. With a nudge from my heels we were off at a ground eating gallop, quickly closing the distance to the balloon. The day’s heat radiated from the ground in waves, soaking the cooler evening air with warmth and the strong summer scents of plants, flowers, soil and life. We moved from heat to cool to heat as we raced across high open ground, down through woods and across streams, then back to open fields. Traveling through the heavy summer air was like swimming in a lake, through sun warmed water then crossing cooler currents from the depths.

We reached the end of the pasture with the balloon still well ahead. Rather than take the time to dismount and open the back gate we went over it, never breaking from the long gallop. We continued up to the top of the ridge of Newbury’s Field, gaining good sight of the balloon. I knew the area well, land the hunt rode through. The woods were crisscrossed with trails for riding, the fields surrounded by old stone walls for jumping.

Balloon well in sight we hunted it through Busk’s field, crossing the Bemis woods to get to Red Field, then back through the woods to Busk’s again. Where our path went through the woods we kept to the trails, listening for the whoosh of the balloon, watching for glimpses of the bright colors through the canopy of trees, galloping faster to make up for our indirect route. Each time we escaped the woods, sailing over stone walls into the open fields, the balloon’s pilot would see us and we would exchange a waved greeting, saluting the chase.

Eventually the balloon floated off over land where I had no route to pursue it. I turned back down through Newbury’s and trotted to the back pasture gate. We had galloped more than a few miles and Fundi was oily with sweat. I noted how slick his back and sides were, how my legs had no purchase to keep me in place. I was utterly dependent on balance and knowing the moves of this horse so well that we made them together. I was then still immortal. I nudged his sides and we cantered home through the back pasture, relaxed and satisfied.