Sunday, October 3, 2010

46. Take a ride in a hot air balloon

The winds have welcomed you with softness,
The sun has greeted you with it's warm hands,
You have flown so high and so well,
That God has joined you in laughter,
And set you back gently into
The loving arms of Mother Earth.

— Known as 'The Baloonists Prayer'

Some debts are too big to pay back, but still you have to try. That's the case for the debt that my friend and student, Connor, and I incurred this summer when my very good friend and SMC alum Siham agreed to go to Jordan with us. Connor and I were going for research, but neither of us spoke Arabic, and Siham does fluently. Her language facility, combined with the fact that she is easily the most charming world traveller I've ever seen in action, made the trip a million times better than it would have been otherwise. I can't really pay her back, but wanted to at least do something, so when I saw hot air ballooning on her list of New Things, I knew that a hot air balloon trip was in order as at least a form of symbolic payback. So I bought us two seats on a balloon ride for this weekend, and we joined tourists from around the country who had come to see the famous Vermont foliage from a different angle -- floating from above.

There were a few times when it almost looked like it wasn't going to happen. Balloons usually fly at dawn and dusk, and we were scheduled for Saturday morning, but the weather did not cooperate. We were going to our friends', Erin and Ethan, wedding in Stowe on Saturday night, so that left Sunday morning. We were supposed to meet at the Inn at Essex at 6 am, but got off a little later, took a wrong turn, and in our haste to get back on track, ran a red light. Luckily, there was no traffic in any direction, and the officer who pulled us over was a really nice guy who let us off with a warning so that we could make our meet-up.

When we finally arrived at the Inn, we got picked up and taken to the launch spot, which was the very large front yard of someone's house. There, we shivered and mostly watched the crews go through the very lengthy process of setting up the baskets, unrolling the balloons, and inflating them, with fans and propane heaters. One of the first things I realized is that getting a balloon in the air is a real production, with LOTS of work involved, but our pilot Jeff and his crew (and his mom and girlfriend who are both sometimes-crew members as well) brought lots of energy to the process. Since this is the peak viewing season Jeff was operating his company, Above Reality (, at full tilt, and there were 14 of us (plus two pilots) waiting to go up. Siham and I were in the big balloon, which held 10 passengers, plus a pilot. Our punishment for being late is that we got stuck on the ends, which I didn't think was much of a punishment, since it was fun to have less-obstructed views in one direction

Flying in a balloon is different than I expected. For one thing, it's very quiet. It's not like flying in a plane -- you go a lot more slowly, since you're in the breeze you don't really feel the wind at all, and you're much lower than when flying in a plane. It's just generally a very peaceful experience, and I imagine much more like what a bird would experience than what you feel when you're in an airplane. The launch and landing were both very gentle as well, and the crew made everything look easier than I'm sure it is because they have their teamwork down so well. We landed in Essex Junction at the edge of a condo complex, and the crew walked the balloon to a road, where they deflated it and and rolled it up (with a little help from the passengers, as you can see from one of the pictures of Siham doing battle with the billowing balloon fabric).

Unless you're independently wealthy, I think this is pretty much a splurge activity, but definitely one that is well worth it. At the end there's a champagne and cheese (Vermont Cabot, of course), and a recitation of the Balooner's prayer that I put at the beginning of the post. As a Vermont resident who revels in the experience of living here, I'd say this is a wonderful way to experience another facet of the beauty of the Green Mountains and our forests and farms and Lake Champlain. It's a special gift that's well worth giving to yourself or someone else (or better yet, both at once) sometime.

52 Ways to Say I Love You
In Tamazight (Berber), and now I am indebted in yet another way to Siham.

Hello Azul
Goodbye Timnsiween
I love you Arkm Tereegh (for a female)
Ark Tereegh (for a male)
(Love = Tayri)
Can I have two beers, please Fkiyi snat birrat zafak

Coming Attractions

Columbus Day Weekend in Washington, DC Not quite sure what the "featured" new thing will be, but the weekend will be chock-full of new things, beginning with the fact that this is the largest student group I've ever taken there (32 students, and yes, I am the only faculty chaperone!). We'll be visiting some development organizations and doing some lobbying on Capital Hill Tuesday morning before coming home, and on Sunday we'll be attending the 350 rally to fight climate change. If people have other ideas for new things, drop me a line!

Camel's Hump Fall Hike. Been waiting a long time for this one. Katrinka and Brian are bringing their daughter, my beloved niece Tigist to Burlington for the weekend of October 15-17, and while they're here we'll do the final Camel's Hump hike together. They've agreed to let me get Tigist going on her own list of new things (she'll turn 3 during her visit to New England), and she and I will be going on her first hike (Mt. Philo) and/or first ice skating experience.


  1. the foliage pic is stunning Trish... Missing fall in VT!

  2. ...far too kind Miss Trish! Hmm, where do I begin with all my debt to you??

    What a lovely time, I am still day dreaming about floating in the air and loving Vermont even more. Can’t wait for the new adventure!
    oh, and see you in BOSTON with our family.

    Reminder: you are REALLY cool, and GREAT!