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A whole new perspective

10/25/2007

By Sharon Johnson

I heard it before I saw it -- a familiar sound that didn't register at first, and then slowly eased its way into my consciousness. I looked skyward and there it was -- bright white, wings flexed, sweeping through the air in a way that can best be described as joyous. It was a shock to see it so close. I jumped up and did a big wave of my arms, waiting like a school kid for the tip of the wings in response. It didn't come, but that in no way dampened my spirits.

If you've ever been in a sailplane, you know there is that great moment when you pull hard on the release knob, bank up and to the right, and the annoying drone of the tow plane gives way to the magical whistle of wind over the sailplane wings.

It is a sound I've heard often in the last 20-plus years. One advantage of being married to a sailplane pilot is that one is pretty much assured a regular slot as a sailplane passenger. So I'm familiar with most of a sailplane's quirky noises. But it's been a long time since I've heard them, and never from this perspective.

Let me back up.

It is week three of the seemingly impossible reality of owning a vacation home in Warren. Our house is set on a hill, surrounded by lots of open space and a knock-your-socks-off western view of Lincoln Peak. What we didn't realize when we bought the house, and what I just discovered this past weekend while on my knees in the garden putting in some mums, is that in addition to the view, the land, and the as-yet-to-be-met resident moose, the house sits right on the glide path to the airport.

Not everyone would consider this a perk. We do. We have history here.

My husband Carl and I met in college. He was membership director of the MIT Soaring Association, and I wanted to learn to fly.* Soaring was a big part of our college years. We spent many weekends at Mansfield airport, where students flew free save for the $13 tow pilot fee.  And every autumn, club members heeded the call of the "wave" and packed gliders into trailers and headed north to Sugarbush for the annual Columbus Day pilgrimage.

Over the years we compiled a portfolio of memories of our time here: Falling asleep in the grass one summer day, stumbling upon a craft fair that sold real crafts, discovering the apple strudel at The Warren Store. And for as much as veteran pilots speak reverentially about the soaring conditions here, what wowed me every time was the fall foliage. To see the leaves in The Valley from 3,000 feet is something everyone should experience at least once.

It seems miraculous that we are here. A certain amount of hard work and some sheer dumb luck had something to do with it, to be certain. But I can't help feel something else is at play. My husband only just recently revealed to me that he'd had a long-standing dream to own a vacation house in Sugarbush. He had? What about the lake house we talked about? The apartment in the city? The fact that the house we happened to purchase is here, right here, seems poetic to me. For all those years we spent looking down at The Valley from sailplanes, it feels right that we now find ourselves in The Valley looking up at them. It's a whole new perspective, and I don't need a tip of the wings to be grateful for it.


*In the interest of full disclosure, the truth is that I thought I wanted to learn to fly. I soon discovered that what I really wanted was to spend more time with the cute guy who was teaching me.

Sharon Johnson lives in Warren and Massachusetts.
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