musings from Canadian author Cheryl Cooke Harrington ... home of The Write Spot

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Writing Wings

The day is hot but comfortably breezy, the sky a hazy blue, heaped with pearl-colored candyfloss clouds. Cumulus. The turbulence makers.

The place is Waterloo Regional Airport (YKF). The plane is a Cessna 172 Skyhawk, C-GTLY (Tango-Lima-Yankee), a four-seater.

The camera is loaded. The flight plan is filed. It's high noon. A good day to d— er, fly.

Shelly, my fearless instructor, finds me a headset and hands me the keys.

Tango-Lima-Yankee - the walk-around.
Tango-Lima-Yankee - the walk-around.

We do the walk-around together, making sure all the nuts and bolts and rivets are still intact. I bleed off a little av-gas from the wings and hold it up to the light. Blue. No water. This is good. Shelly shows me how to check the gas tanks with a dipstick and double-check the oil levels. We kick the tires and then make sure the propellers are smooth and the elevators, rudder, and ailerons are moving freely.

I take the pilot's seat, pushing this and pulling that, nodding as if I know exactly what I'm doing. Turn the key. Raise the flaps. Open the throttle. Follow the yellow line. No problem. This is much easier than the simulator. Feet firmly on the pedals, I weave drunkenly up the middle of the runway, but only for the first hundred yards or so... then my feet figure it out and I'm on the straight and narrow.

Not quite the same as steering a car!
Not quite the same as steering a car.

The plane ahead, another introductory flight, runs off into the ditch. Shelly says "See? You're doing great! Now, just pull back on the yoke..."

Whoop! I'm flying! Doing compass headings, finding the horizon and aiming for landmarks, turning, climbing...accidentally descending once. "Um, are we all right?" asks Shelly, hands not quite on the controls. Hey, no problem!

I'm flying!
I'm flying!

It's hot and hazy. No long distance vistas, but with so much to think about, I decide it's just as well. The turbulence isn't the bumpy kind. It feels like something grabs on and tugs, pulling sideways or giving a little shake. I'm constantly correcting to stay on course.

I fly all the way to West Montrose to see the covered bridge, then on over the Elora Gorge. Straight on till morning sounds good to me, but apparently Shelly has places to be.

The view from up there: Grand River country, Ontario
The view from up there: Grand River country, Ontario

Landing looks easy, but Shelly decides to take over just before touchdown...  something about keeping the nose up and landing with the wheels down.

What a rush! Looking back, I can't believe I was that brave. The flight gave me a whole new perspective on the challenges and joys of piloting a small plane. It was definitely the most exciting part of researching SPARKS FLY. 

Yesterday afternoon (July 30, 2013) my publisher (Montlake) surprised me with news that SPARKS FLY is now available worldwide for Kindle. I'd love it if you'd give it a try and let me know what you think.

Labels: , , , , ,

Saturday, July 13, 2013

I Was a Human Fruitfly

There's no such thing as too many books. Unfortunately, there is such a thing as not enough shelf space. And so, with heavy heart and ruthless attitude, I've been sorting through my stacks with intent to purge. This is not a simple task. Beyond three bookcases chock-full of absolute 'keepers', there are tottering piles of books on cupboard shelves accessible only with ladder and flashlight (and dust mask); there are boxes of books on the floor of my clothes closet doing double duty as shoe display racks; there's an entire twenty-nine volume set of Braun's 'Cat Who' mysteries stowed fittingly in Sam the Cat's favourite footstool. I could go on but you're probably wondering what all this has to do with a fruitfly. Let me explain.

In one of those tottering, top-shelf piles, I discovered a book I haven't thought of in years: a 1987 memoir by Canadian scientist and environmental activist, David Suzuki. In METAMORPHOSIS, Suzuki shares the story of his early years, the impact of his family's forced relocation and internment with other Japanese-Canadians during World War II, his passion for science and research, and his growing awareness of the damage inflicted on our planet by humanity.

Sam the Cat ponders the mysteries of Metamorphosis.
Sam the Cat ponders the mysteries of Metamorphosis
(because, apparently, a blog post is not complete without a cat)

I was a young mother in 1987, living what I hoped was an environmentally responsible life as a back-to-the-lander in rural Markham, Ontario. When news broke that David Suzuki would be speaking at the local Legion hall on his book tour, I was among the first in line for tickets.

The hall was filled to capacity on the evening of his visit and Dr. Suzuki spoke to a rapt and appreciative audience. What I remember most vividly about the man was his passion for his science. He fairly sparkled with enthusiasm as he told us about his early days of research, studying what he believed to be one the most remarkable and beautiful of all creatures: the lowly fruitfly.

He seemed particularly fascinated with the eyes, explaining that fruitfly genetic material can be thought of as a series of discs, each pre-programmed for a specific function. "If an eye disc is injected into a larva's gut, then when that larva becomes an adult, it will carry an eye in its abdomen." *

Suzuki gazed out at his audience. 'Oh, the eyes! If you ever have a chance to look at a fruitfly's eyes through a high-powered microscope... absolutely beautiful!' He scanned the crowd, then pointed a finger directly at me. 'You,' he said, 'lady with the red sweater. Please stand up.'

Thinking I would honestly prefer to sink right through the floor (I was extremely shy), I stood.

'This,' he said, pointing at me again, 'is a fly's eye.' The crowd and I laughed. I'm sure I blushed the colour of my red sweater, too, but Suzuki waved us all into silence.

'When you see a fruit fly in your kitchen, you probably think of it as a tiny, brown, annoying speck. But revealed by the microscope the fly's eye is a multi-faceted jewel, red and shining and every bit as bright and lovely as this lady's sweater.'

Dr. Suzuki thanked me and I subsided, feeling a bit like that fly pinned under a microscope. I don't remember much of what he said after that, but I joined the line to buy his book and waited for an autograph.

It was worth the wait.

"To the lady with the flies eyes - Best wishes - David Suzuki
"To the lady with the flies eyes. Best wishes - David Suzuki"

And that's the true story of how I became a fruitfly for David Suzuki. What's the strangest or most memorable book inscription you've ever received?

*Quote from METAMORPHOSIS: Stages in a Life by David Suzuki (Stoddart, Canada, 1987)

Labels: , , , , ,