To Fly and Die on Kauai

The engine opened its throat to a groaning growl as I pushed in the last bit of throttle I had.  The plane was not shaking yet; I was keeping it above stall speed. My three passengers were getting some once-in-a-lifetime views of the vine-hung, red-brown cliffs beside us. I pulled the yoke harder, slowing below best-angle speed, easing toward the right, because I now knew there was no way we were going to climb over that ridge.  I was going to have to turn this thing around inside this tiny space, and fly back out, where I could climb more gradually out…. If I could keep it flying at all. I smiled at my knuckles, which had not yet turned white… then at my wife in the seat next to me, and said, “Take a picture while the left wing is high, and you can see Pu’u O Kila Lookout up there.”

The faces and cameras of a few people hung over the railing 200 feet above us, documenting a crash for the NTSB to investigate later.  As I gently transitioned from the shallow right bank toward that side of the canyon, to a left bank, to actually make the turn, the stall horn warbled a couple of plaintive notes, but the passengers followed my cue and remained relaxed, enjoying the spectacular views of the mountains up close… very, VERY close.  My hand did not shake as I hit the switch to add the last bit of flaps I had, and gingerly eased the aircraft into a 60° left bank, then a little farther, letting her settle and lose a little altitude, in exchange for a tighter turning radius.  This was going to be the most precise maneuver I had ever performed … and the blood drained from my smile to settle in my gut…

Not fair! The weather report had quoted no wind at all, but the downdraft at the ridge spoke of 30 knots or more.  That, plus the extra weight in the aircraft, meant we could not pop over the ridge the way I had done a dozen times before.  We were stuck inside Waimea Canyon, and as good as dead.

I had taken many friends from Oahu, where we lived, across the 100 miles of open sea to Kauai, the oldest and prettiest of the Hawaiian Islands, and developed a little tour that was always a lot of fun.  On Friday afternoon, we’d land at Lihue, on the south-East corner of the island, closest to Oahu, and rent a car.  We’d pile our stuff in it, and drive past the Menehune fish pond and through Hanapepe, then along the south and leeward coast, to Waimea. There, we’d have a snack and head up the mountain, alongside the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” to Kokee camp to spend the night in the clouds. Next morning, as the mist burned away, we’d go to the very end of the road, to Pu’u O Kila Lookout. From there, we could see the ocean to the North, framed by the enormous green Kalalau valley, and turning to the South, we could see into the red-brown clay valley that cut deep into the island, and I’d tell the passengers that we’d be flying through that valley soon.

We’d head back down Kokee Road, find breakfast at some place along the way back to Lihue, and pile into the airplane, leaving our baggage in the rental car. With ¾-tank of fuel and no baggage, the plane was light and agile.  We’d retrace our path of the afternoon before, swooping low over the Menehune Fish Pond, climbing to crest the Hoary Head Mountains, and pass by Poipu surfing village. Then we’d follow the beach, and just about the time we could see the tiny island of Niihau off the left wing tip, we’d be over Waimea.  There, I’d turn us mauka, toward the center of the island. Instead of following Kokee road as we had driven, I’d stay low, inside the canyon just east of it.  The brown and red soil was spotted with lush green, and tiny streams flowed at the bottom of every ravine. As we passed the center of the island, the elevation even inside the canyon was rising, and we’d climb gently toward my favorite spot. I had pored over flight charts and topographical maps for hours to find it.

At the very end of the longest arm of the canyon, there is a ridge.  Kokee Road ends at the Pu’u O Kila lookout, and Pihea Trail continues along that ridge. I had used that spot many times to thrill my passengers on these little trips.  We’d dawdle along inside the canyon until very close to the ridge, then I’d pour on some power, build up some speed, and pop up over the ridge to a view of the enormous, deep-green Kalalau valley, with the sea and sky rising from the beach in a crystalline blue bowl.  I’d swoop down through the large, lush valley of wild boar and pakalolo plantations, and turn right at the beach. We’d follow the coast back to Lihue, spotting places we would visit later that day, and where we would camp that night. We’d stop at different spots on our way back to Lihue on Sunday.  We always returned to Oahu with eyes and hearts and cameras full of wonders.

This weekend did not happen exactly that way.  On Friday night, we camped at Polihale beach, at the end of the leeward road, instead of at Kokee in the middle of the mountains.  That was nice, but it meant missing Pu’u O Kila lookout, because clouds would likely have obscured the view by the time we got there.  Then, at the airport in Lihue, I learned that the weather would not let us do the Waimea canyon trip.  Winds and cloud cover were simply not in our favor.  No big deal – we had a great time swimming at the Kilauea slippery slide, and saw some beautiful caves and waterfalls, and bought some food to cook up at Hanakapiai beach where we camped that night.  Next day, we headed back to Lihue and piled into the aircraft, and the Sunday weather report was exactly what I had hoped for Saturday.  I had talked a lot about the trip through the canyon, and didn’t want to disappoint my passengers, especially my wife. Maybe this was our chance.  With a full tank of fuel for the trip back to Oahu, we took off. The tower let me use runway 17, because we didn’t even have the usual trade winds out of the NorthWest. That headed us South across Nawiliwili Harbor, and it just seemed inevitable that we visit the misty green Hoary Heads. After that it was smooth flying along the south coast of the island and up into Waimea Canyon.

As we turned from the beach toward the center of the island, we waved to Barking Sands, on the Leeward coast, where Navy aircraft would fuel up to run practice missions out around Niihau. That was also where the Coast Guard waited to hear an emergency beacon and go rescue, or recover body parts.  The day was severe clear, liquid bright, and the canyon was more brilliantly colored than I had ever seen it.  We wound our way through mile after mile of lush green trees and bushes dotting deep red volcanic soil. By the time we got to the ridge, I saw clearly the exact spot where I would cross it. I headed toward it, and began to ease the power in to gain airspeed.  We had to clear the ridge by at least 500 feet to be legal, so I began my climb at a point that would allow that margin of safety plus an extra hundred feet.  Nosing up, I traded airspeed for altitude, and kept adding power.  We were not climbing as quickly as I expected.  I peered ahead at the Keawe on the ridge, and damn it, they were whipping around in a strong wind coming across the ridge!  That meant that the air was bouncing high over the windward slope and then falling hard as it crossed the ridge, right in our faces.  That downdraft was not going to let me climb as I had so many times before.  We were stuck below the ridge line, and a Cessna 172 has no reverse gear.

This was NOT going to end well, unless I came up with a new plan, quickly. A pilot must always plan for unexpected adverse conditions, but cannot allow for every possible fault mode.  This was a problem for which I had only partially prepared. The weight of the full fuel, baggage, and some very solid souvenirs was holding us down, and the downdraft over that ridge was clinching the deal. I knew that a left-hand turn was more efficient in an aircraft with a clockwise-spinning prop, so it would be a left turn to get out of there, but I also needed the full diameter of the dent in the ridge where we were stuck, to get the bird headed South. I began the maneuver I had practiced as a commercial pilot, but never bet my life and the lives of others on.

Once I’d eased over toward the right side of the canyon and banked left, I followed the procedure I knew would allow the tightest possible radius turn, losing just a little altitude, hoping that it did not run us into the ridge. The aircraft began to vibrate just the tiniest extra bit, which told a pilot that we were nearing the stall buffet. The engine groaned on, and it got very, very hot in that cabin. Through clenched teeth, I spoke calmly over the cheerfully chirping stall horn. “We’re going to follow a different track than usual, and retrace some of Kokee Road, so we can fly over Kokee Camp.”

That sounded like a hell of a lot of fun, compared to piling into the ridge 100 feet below Pihea Trail.  The turn took about two years.  Finally, I saw the canyon walls begin to back away from the left landing gear, and a little while later I began transitioning to normal flight, closing the flaps, easing back the power to cruise climb, leveling off and heading south. The sweat on my forehead felt cool.  The aircraft was performing flawlessly. We cruised the 6 miles down to where a low spot made it easy to get over to Kokee Road, and very gradually kept climbing over the gently rising terrain. Passing the Pu’u O Kila lookout, we had 1,000 feet to spare, and eased through the clear, rushing air above Kalalau Valley up to the Na Pali coast.

From there, the trip went as planned, along the windward shore, past Princeville, Kilauea, Anahola, and Wailua, then the 100-mile channel back to Oahu and Barber’s Point Naval air station, our home base.  Landing and post flight were routine, except I had to check carefully that there was no red clay in the tire treads.  That’s a dead giveaway that a pilot has been naughty.

Un-Do-Late

© WayneSL 2016
Some things you can’t undo.
Sometimes it’s just too late.
The legs undulate.
They move with steady, rolling motion
To no effect.
Perhaps the effect is just to ascertain
That they can move
Will move when commanded
But by what?
What is it that commands these legs to wave in the air
Calmly
Repeatedly
Then stop a while
Then wave again?
The body’s black and yellow stripes
The wings awry
Curl into a memory of force
Against the hard white-coated metal
Of the newspaper dispenser
The news inside already old
Before it had been printed
Hard, harsh glossy white
Enclosing printed paper that
Only a relic from last century would consult for “news.”

And the legs move again, coordinated, marshalled by some instigator
Some motivator feigning life
Crystals grow.
Muscles twitch.
Clouds fly.
Suns shines.
Life… is it memory?
A mud puddle retains the mark of a foot.
Is it thought?
A Traffic light presides over the comings and goings beneath it.
How much does this shell that flew
And ate
And mated
And daubed mud
Differ from the dervish
That spins and roars and skips a trailer
To flatten a house
And howling suck the roots from the root cellar?

I think therefore I am
But when I cease to think
Another mind may give me substance still
And stillness
Is it death or pause?
Death is just a longer pause, perhaps.
The fall does not kill
Yet being dead is not what hurts,
But landing and
Anticipation of the landing
Death is calm, complete, content.
Undulating legs
An experiment on
What is and is not
life.

 

Happy HollowDaze

Magazine cover by Norman Rockwell: Public Domain (pre-1929)

Magazine cover by Norman Rockwell: Public Domain (pre-1929)

BUZZKILL ALERT – THIS IS NOT A HAPPY STORY.

Not warm fuzzies, but something we may wish to remember
in this season of high expectations and harsh realities:


OPEN THE STARK STORY

Existential Moment

Black Hole

Black Hole

2014 WayneSL

That existential moment
when finite and infinite
eternity and now
can, will, might
and probably not
swirl and swell
and do not come to rest
yet we persist…

Mineral

Colossal bust of Ramesses II

Ozymandias Busted. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Waynesl, 2014

What will be made of my ashes?
More than thrown bones
or leaves that lie
in a cup?
I poured the ashes of my father from the plastic box
and tried to see a man there
a life.
Not even pain remained.
We who were left climbed a rock
in the desert where his last glory had burned
and died
long, long, before his body did.
The backward Santa Ana wind
spread those minerals over sand and stone
indifferent, undifferent in their import.
Methodical Joshuas now incorporate that dust
into thorny, twisted limbs.
Neptune may accept me
And make something of my bones
Some coral or a nematode
Or shark.
The hearts I touched may heal
The minds remember
And if these words find shelter with another
Eternity will make of them my seal.

Premature Preemptive Destruction

Used by permission of http://www.forwallpaper.com/

Used by permission of http://www.forwallpaper.com/

My friend Martin Giles posted this:

A burglar breaks into a family home at 2AM and helps himself to a couple of mobile phones, an iPad and a wallet. Unfortunately, the seven year-old daughter is in the kitchen getting a glass of water at the time, and the burglar surprises her. She screams, waking the parents.
The burglar has a knife and pulls the girl in front of him, putting the knife to her throat as he makes for the door. Mum is already on the phone to the police (and luckily there’s a station two doors down), so armed officers are on their way within a few seconds, while the dad, with loaded pistol in his hand (it’s America) blocks the burglar’s exit.
The burglar is a desperate man however, and though he now has several armed men pointing guns at him, he’s got his trump card – the child. A human shield. The police officers arrive, and father and police don’t hesitate. They shoot the burglar, the bullets ripping through the child’s body first.
Everyone is sad that the girl is dead, but all agree that they are innocent of any wrong-doing. The burglar was using the child as a human shield, so it’s entirely his fault that the girl is now dead. No question. Little bastard.
But wait. Isn’t the point of a human shield that no person in their right mind would shoot through it? Perhaps it’s only in the movies where the snipers wait for a clear shot.
 

I responded:

Can’t like this Martin Giles, but you point out one of the deepest, most serious problems I see in human culture today: imbalance. The burglar was wrong. There was a need for action to curb his behavior in the moment, and also to discourage him and others from similar acts. However his use of the child limited the options available to the others.

The only quick way they could counter his bad behavior was to threaten or perpetrate violence which risked an innocent life. Instead of keeping a focus on the innocence at risk, they focused on the evil in progress, and escalated to destruction of an entirely higher scale. They fell into what I see as a common, (and perhaps increasingly so) error which costs many of us our very lives. I call it Premature Preemptive Destruction. It is like jumping off a cliff to avoid falling.  Almost all of us have experienced that alarming feeling at the edge, looking down and sensing that we may have an urge to jump, to “just get it over with,” and though we almost universally resist it successfully, it can often set our pulses racing, our hands shaking, and occasionally… precipitate disaster.

It is in those adrenaline-soaked moments that we must draw on a reserve of prior consideration, of preparation, to withstand the unwise, ineffective, course of expedience. It is at those times our race can end or continue, individually or quite possibly one day in an unnecessary world-wide disaster. I believe that our evolution to that capability, and our either overcoming it or falling to it, constitute a turning point in the story of life on this planet. Even if we do mature and survive as a race, I weep for those individuals whose lives are ended too soon, or severely diminished, by the haste of Premature Preemptive Destruction.

Turns Left

MoonTree

WayneSL  1990

 (to be read aloud- not for the eyes alone)

A tear of joy
a tear of heart
the tares of life
when leavers part
the part you knead
your needs depart
a life of leaves
and branches.

The branches fork
spread from a crotch
the dogwood bark
but bark peels off
peals of the thunder
nervous cough
the coffin creaks
and listens.

The creeks a flood
the flowers float
too light to fall
two lightnings bolt
lithe wood is rent
the rent comes due
the dew comes.

To do, to die
the die is cast
cast out the doubt
decide at last
the side of right
the right to wrong
the left won.

RIVER OF STEEL

14-5-210-405 -118 by WayneSL

14-5-210-118by WayneSL (2015)

WayneSL 1988

Leaning forward Skijump Stance

jawset faces cutting wind

chromeplate eyes scan grey-brown haze.

Out of the mountains we ooze

in a rolling rush downhill

to coalesce in painted metal rivers

spreading on the shrouded valley floor.

Roaring rapids, chrome and glass

spray and steam and smoke.

Eddies swirl at on-and-off ramps

Rubber ripples shining wet

reflect the sun’s weak penetration

of the brown-cloud glare.

A barracuda’s darting dance

flaunting lane-change pirouettes

taunts the surly diesel rhinos

flouts majestic ocean liners,

manic minnows fawning in their wakes.

An open lane, a gush of gas

A carom off a gravel truck

slomo flight, wheels spinning airborne

graceful leap across the chainlink

a somersault & a half twist

Flying in formation

with a dozen spinning shards of shattered plastic

and windshield glass spraying like rock salt soaked in red.

The river curdles, standstill spreading from the snag

up and down the grid the grinding jam congeals.

Engines whirring idle, gnashing teeth, hot tar and radios.

The smoke begins to rise

and reeks of hair and gasoline and rubber soot

and I’ll be late again and likely lose my parking spot.

 

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Timescapes (1988, WayneSL)

Rabbidity

Things float past my sticky-wheeled swivel chair

above my undisciplined desk

my bothered will watches wistfully,

they pass & fade, untended

intended, but lost by default

my fault

distracted

disconsolate

uncalendared, out-of-sync, out of Time

surfing down these rapids, between the tall, slick walls

Mundane Fry Day

On Moonday

I hatch visions like doves

and throw them soaring to the sky

cloudwisp wings on pale wide blue

By Fryday

blue has sunk to rust and gray

the clouds have clumped like unginned cotton

>and tumble down to roost around me

lumpy owl-eyed hens accusing,

constipated with rotting eggs.

Turns Left

(to be read aloud- not for the eyes alone)

A tear of joy
a tear of heart
the tares of life
when leavers part
the part you knead
your needs depart
a life of leaves
and branches.

The branches fork
spread from a crotch
the dogwood bark
but bark peels off
peals of the thunder
nervous cough
the coffin creaks
and listens.

The creeks a flood
the flowers float
too light to fall
two lightnings bolt
lithe wood is rent
the rent comes due
the dew comes.

To do, to die
the die is cast
cast out the doubt
decide at last
the side of right
the right to wrong
the left won.

TIDINGS

 a Vilanelle

Time and Tide, who wait for none,
still bind me fretting to my place;

in stately meter march until they’re done.

 

There is one race I’ve never won:

I’ll never beat, but always chase

Time and Tide, who wait for none.

 

Death and taxes, moon and sun

allow no alteration of the pace;

in stately meter march until they’re done.

 

Things I need to do, I shun.

I dawdle, then I rush, and still must face

Time and Tide, who wait for none.

 

These universal rhythms weigh a ton;

they never dance with any joy nor grace;

in stately meter march until they’re done.

 

Change is a constant, and the only one;

Though I can find no standing place,

Time and Tide, who wait for none,

in stately meter march until they’re done.

Name Less

In early morning sprouting
A numbered mushroom building
towers just south of the old jail
across the street from the defunct hospital
I circle it slowly.
It looks like a bank, with a drive through.
On a small door in the back, the words
cremation services.
I round each corner and drive through the large colonnade
and  still there is no name.
This exit from our lives has no name.
The building is large and crisp,
newly risen in the night
yet leans out over me
as I slowly slink away.