Monday, February 22, 2010

Joni Mitchell: fellow traveller

I simply cannot shake the intense resonance I have with the lyrics of Joni.
When I describe Joni as a fellow traveler, no song would better describe what that phrase means than this:

"Refuge of the Roads"

I met a friend of spirit
He drank and womanized
And I sat before his sanity
I was holding back from crying
He saw my complications
And he mirrored me back simplified
And we laughed how our perfection
Would always be denied
"Heart and humor and humility"
He said "Will lighten up your heavy load"
I left him then for the refuge of the roads

I fell in with some drifters
Cast upon a beachtown
Winn Dixie cold cuts and highway hand me downs
And I wound up fixing dinner
For them and Boston Jim
I well up with affection
Thinking back down the roads to then
The nets were overflowing
In the Gulf of Mexico
They were overflowing in the refuge of the roads

There was spring along the ditches
There were good times in the cities
Oh, radiant happiness
It was all so light and easy
Till I started analyzing
And I brought on my old ways
A thunderhead of judgment was
Gathering in my gaze
And it made most people nervous
They just didn't want to know
What I was seeing in the refuge of the roads

I pulled off into a forest
Crickets clicking in the ferns
Like a wheel of fortune
I heard my fate turn, turn turn
And I went running down a white sand road
I was running like a white-assed deer
Running to lose the blues
To the innocence in here
These are the clouds of Michelangelo
Muscular with gods and sungold
Shine on your witness in the refuge of the roads

In a highway service station
Over the month of June
Was a photograph of the earth
Taken coming back from the moon
And you couldn't see a city
On that marbled bowling ball
Or a forest or a highway
Or me here least of all
You couldn't see these cold water restrooms
Or this baggage overload
Westbound and rolling taking refuge in the roads

(c) Joni Mitchell

Yes indeed shine on your witness...

Friday, December 7, 2007

Destroy the Teacher

Aviation is an art. It is taught to the new generation by individuals who take students who are worthy and foster them into it. Sure there are businesses that do this for money. The fellow travelers of whom I speak now do it for free, for the love of the thing. I was fortunate enough to meet such a person at the tender age of 12. His name is J.H.H. I had a friend in 6th grade whose dad was a very famous Astronaut. He and I made our minds up then that we were going to fly. My friend had the leg up for sure. I had to find a way. Mr. J.H.H. lived in my neighborhood. He had a Cessna 170B in his backyard. It had been damaged on the ground by a tornado. He was affecting the repairs at home. Naturally, I being the curious type had to see this REAL airplane. Friends and I had been building model airplanes and rockets for about 4 years at this point. Here was the real thing dropped right in my lap. I came to meet Mr. J.H.H. and began asking lots and lots of questions. My first exposure to aviation was sheet metal work. I learned how to buck rivets. After about 2 years of work, the 170 was ready to fly. Before flying, we spent several evenings a week for many weeks doing ground school. This grounded me in the absolute need to pursue academics. There was no question about what do I need to learn this stuff for? I'll never use it when I grow up. I needed to know allot of stuff to get to do what I wanted to do. Then the fateful day came to fire up the engine. I was excited. I was mesmerized by the sights and sounds that a real airplane made. The sunlight glinting off the propeller as it idled. I remember jumping up and down as the bird roared off the grass. You see, the runway at S&S pipeline patrol field in League City, Texas was grass. That airport too was later carpeted over by suburbia. Soon we were flying about once a week. I learned the old school way. There were high tension power lines that ran right next to the airport so we made our approached right by the towers. These are significant in that my friend and I used to climb these towers and look over the landscape as if we were flying. I tried my best to learn and be worthy of the effort. I am forever grateful to J.H.H. for taking the time. It is probable that I would have found a way to fly if I had not met Mr. J.H.H. but it was he who stepped up. That meeting set the course of my life. I just got a card from him that gave the news that he had to stop after 65 years of flying for a medical reason. 65 years is not a bad run. I should be so lucky. There is an Irish proverb that says, "When the student is ready, the teacher will appear." I believe it. When a student advances in his profession there comes a time when they go beyond and are on their own. Now this may read as being egotistical but there is a great quote from "Leave of Grass" by Whitman that I wish use here:

"I am the teacher of athletes. He that by me spreads a wider breast than my own proves the width of my own. He most honors my style who learns under it to destroy the teacher."

Salute my dear Mr. J.H.H. you loosed the arrow that was me.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Bruce Cockburn: Fellow Traveller

Not sure what it is about Canadians but they sure produce the bards. On a recent post I commented on Joni Mitchell who is Canadian. This post is about Bruce Cockburn. My recommendation to any music lover that has not been introduced to this artist is to buy sight unseen his album, "Charity of Night" (1996). From there you will know what to do. If you follow this guy at all, he will take you places. The theme of this blog has been about seeing beyond the surface. Cockburn writes on an incredibly high level. The images in his songs take several listenings to coalesce. The are like peeling an onion. Each time you listen, you notice something frayed at the edge and pull it back to find a new deeper layer. Try these lyrics by Bruce Cockburn on for size:

"Strange Waters"

I've seen a high cairn kissed by holy wind
Seen a mirror pool cut by golden fins
Seen alleys where they hide the truth of cities
The mad whose blessing you must accept without pity

I've stood in airports guarded glass and chrome
Walked rifled roads and landmined loam
Seen a forest in flames right down to the road
Burned in love till I've seen my heart explode

You've been leading me
Beside strange waters

Across the concrete fields of man
Sun ray like a camera pans
Some will run and some will stand
Everything is bullshit but the open hand

You've been leading me
Beside strange waters
Streams of beautiful lights in the night
But where is my pastureland in these dark valleys?
If I loose my grip, will I take flight?

You've been leading me
Beside strange waters
Streams of beautiful lights in the night
But where is my pastureland in these dark valleys?
If I loose my grip, will I take flight?

-- Bruce Cockburn

Hard to add to that! My rhetorical question is, Who will take flight if you loose your grip?

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The sky is a good place

Just a Strip of concrete

I wrote the below article about 5 years ago and it was published in the Galveston County, "The Daily News". The previous post I did on Joni Mitchell jogged my memory of the editorial comment I made back in March 2002. The image above is the landing threshold of runway 13 at SPX, Houston Gulf Airport taken in March 2002. The airport was closed the next day. Within a month the runway was ground up for road material and hauled away. Now it has been carpeted over by suburbia and is South Shore Harbor phase 72 A. I soloed an airplane for the first time from here in September 1978. Within 2 years I was instructing and sending others on their first solo's as I watched f rom the adjacent taxiway. Each time I walked around remembering my first solo.

“Just a strip of concrete”

This is an epitaph for the Houston Gulf Airport; which will be closing at the end of March 2002 after almost 40 years of operation. Just a strip of concrete, which was the last threshold for the City of League City to the rest of the World. Part of the heritage of this community is the exploration of space. There is no exploration without explorers.

The original name of the airport was Spaceland Airport. The name at that time is indicated in Its FAA identifier: SPX. My connection to this airport began in 1977 at the age of 15. Working for the Fixed Base Operator, “FBO”, that was in operation then, “Clear Lake Aviation”, I washed airplanes or whatever needed to be done around the place. I traded my time to learn to fly there and soloed at the age of 16. From time to time I get a birds eye view of Houston Gulf airport from the Captain’s seat of a Southwest Airlines Boeing 737. I always look down fondly on this airport and remember. This view and many others that would amaze you have appeared out the window of airplanes I have flown. Views of the pyramids, the grand canyon, the glint of a sun set through the delta of the Mississippi river, The Greek archipelago, The Alps, The Rockies etc.

At its peak around 1978 there were many air shows and other activities at Spaceland airport. I was able to meet many legends of aviation there including: Art Scholl and Jimmy Franklin. It was common to meet astronauts who were active there. To a kid they were Gods. Also, during that time, the Clear Creek ISD had an aviation class they offered to high school students. Students could take the class to learn the fundamentals of aviation. The FAA Private Pilots exam was offered at the end of the course. I was allowed independent study in this course twice after I passed the first FAA exam. My independent study let me take all the FAA exams up to Commercial Pilot and Certified Flight Instructor, CFI. No such program exists today. The link between this airport and the high school was direct. I was not the only one. There were a couple of students with the same passion as I. We established a camaraderie amongst ourselves in knowing we were doing something that was sacred to those who fly. Flying changes everything. It makes you a citizen of the world not just of a single place. This is because the horizon is literally pushed out. There is a phrase from the song “Amelia” by Joni Mitchell that summarizes:

“The drone of flying engines is a song so wild and blue.

It scrambles time an seasons if it gets through to you

Then your life becomes a travelogue of picture-postcard-charms”

Soon not only will the aviation course be gone but so will the airport. League City will not miss its last threshold to the world. It will be dazzled by a few more Property tax invoices. Airports do not spontaneously sprout out of suburbia. I hope your children, if they aspire to be explorers, are able to find a threshold and mentors from which to launch their dreams to fly.

After all this is said, it’s only a strip of concrete.


Captain Southwest Airlines

Joni Mitchell: fellow traveller

Joni Mitchell is one of my all time favorite singer/songwriters. One of her songs, "Emelia", struck a chord in me a long long time ago. It was recorded in 1976 on her album, "Hejira".
Every song on this album is excellent but this one has a vision that people who fly know.
The second stanza is my biography. I would love to compose some pictures that would illustrate these lyrics but they really don't need any help. An artist like Joni can draw the picture in your mind with words.


"Emelia" by Joni Mitchell

I was driving across the burning desert
When I spotted six jet planes
Leaving six white vapor trails across the bleak terrain
It was the hexagram of the heavens
It was the strings of my guitar
Amelia, it was just a false alarm

The drone of flying engines
Is a song so wild and blue
It scrambles time and seasons if it gets thru to you
Then your life becomes a travelogue
Of picture-post-card-charms
Amelia, it was just a false alarm

People will tell you where theyve gone
Theyll tell you where to go
But till you get there yourself you never really know
Where some have found their paradise
Others just come to harm
Oh amelia, it was just a false alarm

I wish that he was here tonight
Its so hard to obey
His sad request of me to kindly stay away
So this is how I hide the hurt
As the road leads cursed and charmed
I tell amelia, it was just a false alarm

A ghost of aviation
She was swallowed by the sky
Or by the sea, like me she had a dream to fly
Like icarus ascending
On beautiful foolish arms
Amelia, it was just a false alarm

Maybe Ive never really loved
I guess that is the truth
Ive spent my whole life in clouds at icy altitude
And looking down on everything
I crashed into his arms
Amelia, it was just a false alarm

I pulled into the cactus tree motel
To shower off the dust
And I slept on the strange pillows of my wanderlust
I dreamed of 747s
Over geometric farms
Dreams, amelia, dreams and false alarms

Thursday, November 8, 2007

To Boldly go where no man has gone before

These signs are at the entrance to a park in Webster Texas named in honor of the crew that was lost on Challenger. These signs are literally 5 miles away from the NASA Mission Control Room from where the Apollo moon landings were controlled. How will we ever inspire the next generation of explorers if we do not let them play with model aircraft or rockets? Especially in a place that is named in honor of those who have gone before and sacrificed their lives to the cause of exploration. There is no more fitting place. How will they ever begin to bridge the gap between dreaming a thing and doing a thing? They will need space to experiment and develop intuition. Most great paradigm shifts do not come from institutions but from individuals. Goddard, Von Braun, Shepard, Armstrong did not grow up sheltered in suburbia. Our arrogant laws will be our cage.