During college, I spent a year at the University of Edinburgh. It was a worst-year-of-my-life-and-best-year-of-my-life adventure, the latter being largely due to an impulsive “yes” to an invitation to join the Ballooning Society. This ragtag group, led by a lanky medical student from Pakistan and an engineering graduate from south London, who had more than a passing resemblance to Manuel on Fawlty Towers, would meet every Friday night at a pub in the Haymarket. If the weather was promising for a flight, we’d load into the van at pub closing time and head off, sometimes north to the Highlands, sometimes south to the Borders; at dawn, we’d find an open field to launch.
In the early mornings of the winter, the mist lies heavily over the Scottish landscape, merging seamlessly with the low clouds. Asmat and Jim were accomplished pilots and rarely let a little fog get in their way. Even in the “pea soup” variety, we’d launch anyway – heaving up through the disorienting white mass for what seemed like forever before emerging into the bright light. Below us was a vast field of fluff – barely any distinguishing contours, only a couple distant landmarks like a hill top or very tall stand of trees, nothing but the sun to indicate direction.
Even though just a few layers of stiff wicker and hundreds of feet of thin air lay between me and the hard ground, I wasn’t worried. I could breathe! And bask in a profound silence broken only by an occasional whoosh of the burner keeping us afloat. Eventually the fog would burn off, the clouds clear and we’d swoop over the now familiar trees, winding roads, and homesteads before clumping down in some sheep pasture, and knocking on a farmer’s door to ask if we could use the phone to call for the chase car waiting for us at – you guessed it – a designated pub.
At the start of each new year, I recall those crazy-brave launches into the fog. Terrifying. Disorienting. Exhilarating. Fortunately, we are rarely flying quite as blind as Asmat and Jim were so skilled at doing. Strategic priorities, operational plans, and a few visible real landmarks we can already see (the Annual Summit, our webinar series, legislative and advocacy work, continued collaboration with the State on the POLST eRegistry Project) will direct our flight. New opportunities will emerge as the winter fog clears. There may be some bumps along the way, maybe even a hard landing or two in, shall we say, muck ahead, but the thrill of that rise and the adventure ahead are inspiring! For everyone, here’s to smooth flying, a great crew and chase team, soft landings, and great scenes along the way.
Photo credit: Hot air balloon over San Miguel de Allende, Mexico - October 2022, by Melissa Guadalupe Huertas (cropped). Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en