Dawn seeped into the valley. The new day arrived from the other side of the Sierras heralded by the silent beauty of sunrise over the mountains; magnificent array of color and promise, a brand new canvas with only the background colored in. All else left to us to fill however we see fit or are able to do. Light pours from the edge of the sun, slips across the land to chase away the shadows of night, slowly building momentum as the icon rises higher; just as it has done for ions. We, in our short existence, taking our turn in history to witness it.
Down in the valley, bleary eyed crop dusters finish their last loads of the night. The airplanes are dirty, the pilots are weary, but another night of aerial application has been completed. Thousands of acres and the promise of millions of pounds of cotton passed beneath their wings. The wheels of the last ship to land chirp on the runway just as darkness fades.
It’s an odd sort of quiet when the engines are finally shut down and the propeller stands still after its last revolution. Like a long deep breath. Hours of being on the edge of the seat dissipate in the cooling of the exhaust stacks.
The yellow birds are again parked wingtip to wingtip on the flight line. Some of us hobble a little as we exit the cockpit. Worn joints, battle scars and just plain old age are things we can’t escape, but they all are well earned and just seem to come with the territory. We’re all a little tougher than most, or at least we try to be. Ag pilots aren’t like many others. We’re not made of the same sort of stuff that requires others to avoid the margins of life or run away from loud noises. Nope. War zones, wrecks, motorcycles and ‘hold my beer’ sort of dares, to one degree or another all seem to fit into the ag pilot’s sea bag. Perhaps that’s why some of us hobble a little when we exit the cockpit…
It’s times like this, when I walk into the office to complete the paperwork, that I take a minute to calculate the cost of an ag pilot. I see pilots I fly with as extensions of all of us. I sometimes wonder how I can be considered worthy to be counted as one among them. Then I thank God that I am, and pray His grace continues for all of us.
Decades of trying, failing, succeeding and continuing to push onward are logged in the DNA of every ag pilot out there. From the new guy to the old hands, we all share the heritage of those who built the foundation of this crazy industry. The pioneers of our nation laid out roads to bring people, places, and things together. Ours built runways from old tracks of dirt and hammered together flying contraptions that would mesmerize and inspire others to do more of the same. Men who knew flying machines looked at wide fields of cotton, corn, soybeans, everything from apples to zucchini and decided there was a better way to help farmers protect their crops.
The airplane reshaped warfare and travel across the world. Ways were invented to use the new invention of powered flight. Agriculture wasn’t too far behind. Though our advancements came slowly at first, we didn’t have a vast military budget or the deep pockets of millionaire businessmen. But, they came and were refined over decades of trial and error. The blood of many of our fellow aviators mixed with oil and gasoline as it soaked into the ground beneath the attempts that led to greater things. They were just like us. A little rough around the edges. A hard set jaw. Lines around the eyes from hours squinting into the sun. A little bit of a fatalistic humor, patriotic to the core and a deeply embedded necessity to always go above and beyond the average. We, like them, shun the mundane, skip past the instructions and maybe a little too often leave the safety guards off. No matter what, we do what we do because if we didn’t, we would be miserable. We would be three dimensional beings living in a two dimensional world. Birds in a cage.
As the days of July unfold the Valley and acres sweep beneath our wings, we’ll all log the hours in the best way we can. The future is like a new day dawning. Bright and clear, holding the promise of a blank page yet unwritten. The horizon is always just a little bit out of reach, maybe that’s the way it’s supposed to be, but we all continue to reach for it because that’s what we do and the world wouldn’t turn right without guys like us to do it.
Whether you’re greeting the dawn by starting your machine to begin the day or by shutting it down to finish the night, if you’re flying over the corn fields of the midwest, rice in the Delta, or cotton in California or the South, keep in mind you are one of the few who get to do it. Here and now in your place in history, along with the rest of us who are just like you. Never take it for granted and never fail to see the beauty of the world from the perspective afforded you. The men who came before us expect it. Those who will came after us require it.
Fly Well, and Stay Safe!