Aerial Boundaries: Exploring the Autumn Landscape from Above…

October 28th, 2010 § 9 comments

The Connecticut River from 1,500′ AGL

Maple, Birch and Pine Along the Riverbank

Departing Turners Falls, Runway 34, Heading Over the River

Farm fields and autumn colors along the Massachusetts/Vermont State Line

Our Little Shadow in the Blue Stem Fields

Sunset Hours Above the Banks of the Connecticut River

Swampland Along the VT/MA State Line

Looking Down at the Pioneer Valley and the Surrounding Hills, Reflected in Carlos’ Tail

October in New England

Inspiration: Earth from Above, Third Edition Yann Arthus-Bertrand

The  Story-Behind-the-Story:  Aviation…

After posting an aerial photo of  a local corn maze last week, I received a couple of emails asking about how I managed to get the shot. Well, the short answer is that I took the photo from my airplane. But of course, there’s much more to the story than that. So, if you’re curious about my flying, read on…

Photo by KQ777 via Photobucket

I’ve been a licensed pilot for more than a decade now, but I fell in love with aviation when I was just a little girl. Growing up in rural New England in the 70s and 80s —with farms, orchards and forests all around— the sight of small, agricultural aircraft was commonplace. Spotting a yellow ‘crop-duster’ — the pilot buzzing our house on the way to neighboring corn and potato fields— was a regular occurrence on summer days. I can still remember the hazy, white clouds of acrid, chemical-laden dust hanging in the air after the little yellow biplane made a few low passes over the farm next door. When my mother heard the plane coming, she worried out-loud about pesticides the Ag Cat was dumping on her children —as well as her berry crops, vegetables and freshly washed laundry— and if she could catch us, she always made us come indoors. Of course, like most children, my sister and I were far more interested in the excitement of the airplane than the potential threat of toxins in the air. So, if we were out of ‘assumed ear-shot’, we would run —arms waiving wildly— to the path leading to our neighbor’s corn fields. We had no sense of the many dangers, and we loved to watch that yellow biplane dip and rise in gravity-defying arcs on the horizon. It just looked like such a blast. Years later, when I was training for my own pilot’s license, I discovered that the yellow biplane flying over my house was a Grumman Ag Cat (see photo-link above).

Taylorcraft image via Letsfly.org

By the late 80s, when I was a teenager, the neighboring corn fields had vanished. First, a house was built, and then the remaining land was subdivided into more lots. No more corn, no more biplane, and no more crop dusting. By this time I was 15 or 16, and I’d grown wise to the dangers of pesticides. Although I once loved watching its aerobatic maneuvers above my house, I was happy to see that toxic little airplane go. Cancer eventually took the lives of my neighbors, solidifying my distaste for chemical farming and my mistrust of agricultural chemical companies. Sometimes I’m surprised that this didn’t discourage my love of flying. But I suppose even then, I knew full-well that aviation made many good things possible; like spotting and fighting forest fires, search and rescue missions, agricultural and environmental research, mapping and of course travel, to name but a few. Airplanes remained a source of endless fascination and my interest continued to grow. A few miles from my home, two local pilots had a pair of pleasure planes stored in a big, old dairy barn. One airplane was a yellow J3 Cub, and the other was a beautiful, cherry-red Taylorcraft (see photo-link above). On days when the airplanes were pulled out —gleaming in sunlit fields— I was filled with the most indescribable longing. I wanted to get up there. I wanted to see everything…

Cornfields Along the Connecticut River

Years passed, and after college at UMass Amherst, I lived in the Bay Area of California for a time. While out west, I took a number of scenic flights in the Eastern Sierra Nevada, Inyo and Death Valley. Eager to continue exploring on my own, I started setting aside money for flight training, and when I moved back home to Vermont, I decided to take to the air. I joined the UMass Collegiate Flying Club (open to the alumni, faculty and staff of UMass and five college consortium), and started taking flying lessons in the club’s little red and white Cessna 152. Six months later, I had my private pilot’s license. Four years ago, I bought an old, neglected airplane (A 1946 Luscombe 8A Silvaire), which I am currently restoring and flying in my spare time. I love to get up in the air and experience the beauty of the landscape from above. It’s great inspiration…

The Pioneer Valley from Above (Airport runway is on the upper left… see it?)

Final Approach to Landing at Turners Falls municipal airport

Carlos: my 1946 Luscombe 8A Silvaire, after many hours of restoration-polishing

That’s me with ‘Carlos’ in 2006 – Photo credit: William Bonnette

If you live in, or are visiting New England, and would like to see the landscape from above, I highly recommend a photo-flight with William Bonnette at Pioneer Aviation in Western Massachusetts. A one-hour photo flight is a fun and affordable way to experience the Connecticut River Valley and surrounding landscape (a photo flight or intro lesson also makes an unforgettable gift – certificates are available on his website here). Located right in the heart of the Pioneer Valley in Western Massachusetts, Turners Falls Municipal Airport is just a short car ride from most points in southern New Hampshire and Vermont, and less than two hours from Hartford, CT and Boston, MA. While it’s true that the views from a small airplane are a colorist’s delight in autumn, they are just as beautiful at any other time of the year. Bill Bonnette taught me to fly ten years ago. He’s been flying for more than thirty years, and he’s both an amazing pilot and flight instructor (he doesn’t need to pay for my recommendation, and he didn’t).

New England Photo Flights, Introductory Flight Lessons, Pilot Training and Gift Certificates

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Article and photographs (with noted exceptions) ⓒ Michaela at TGE

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§ 9 Responses to Aerial Boundaries: Exploring the Autumn Landscape from Above…"

  • Jim Baldwin says:

    Wonderful! I love seeing the river from this perspective, especially at this time of year. And your plane is gorgeous. It must have taken a long time to get that sheen! It’s the aeronautical version of an Airstream!

  • Deb Weyrich-Cody says:

    Oh how wonderful to have been able to follow through on your childhood dream: learning to fly is also something I’ve always said I’d love to do… and Carlos, Carlos is wonderful. I can only imagine how many hours of hard work you’ve invested in his shiny coat – especially comparing this week’s(?) photos with the one from 2006 – you must get such a sense of accomplishment from the transformation. Many, many congratulations! D xo

  • Michaela says:

    @ Jim – Thanks! Yes… It did take a bit of elbow grease. In fact the polish and wax is the very same treatment used on airstream trailers.

    @ Deb – I do love flying, and can honestly say that learning to fly is the best gift I have ever given to myself. Thanks for the Carlos compliment. I think he may be blushing. Wait, that’s my reflection ;)
    xo M

  • Stacey says:

    This is so cool! Is there anything you *can’t* do?!

  • Michaela says:

    @ Stacey – Ha! Actually, lets see… Where do I start? I can’t ride a horse. I can’t sew. I can’t knit or crochet (I really want to learn). I can’t keep my desk organized and I can’t dance (unless you count spastic flailing motions and ‘the swim’ as dancing). I could go on, but it might get embarrassing.
    Flying is awesome. And it’s a lot easier than it seems! ;)

  • Deb Weyrich-Cody says:

    Until I get the “Big Three” (time, money and access) all lined up, this will, SIGH, remain on my Bucket List.
    Who was that said something about “… life without dreams …”?

  • […] Inside nineteen greenhouses along the Connecticut River, each year Walker Farm grows more than 1,200 varieties of annual and perennial plants from seed. Walker Farm will be open on April 8th*, and at this time of year, the farm is literally buzzing with activity; with seed starting and vegetative propagation of plants in full swing. I’ll be writing much more about Walker Farm in the coming weeks, but for today here is a sneak peek at some of the young annual and perennial seedings and colorful succulent starts growing at the farm. As my eye took in the abstract, geometric shapes, patterns and delightfully saturated colors, I couldn’t help but compare the greenhouse landscape to that of agricultural fields, viewed from above. […]

  • Mary says:

    I’m such a fan of the aerial perspective, but the pictures with your shiny bright plane in them give a new twist to that type of photography! I’m enjoying your photos- thanks!

  • Michaela says:

    Thank you, Mary. I love flying in autumn, when the world below is all ablaze in vibrant fall color! ;) M

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