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ISSUE 157 - February 2011
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In The Eye of The Wolf

By David Rose, Contributing Editor
San Diego, California

They’ll tell you there all gone now. “Have been since the ‘50’s” . They say “they put some in the mountains around Arizona in ’76, but they didn’t catch on”.


But I wasn’t thinking about that at the time. I was on my way back to California flying my Pitts.
I had left Albuquerque behind and the New Mexico desert was slipping by now. It was a perfect late summer afternoon and I slid the canopy back to see if the sweet pungent odor of the desert Big Sage could be detected from three hundred feet. There leaves and buds, I imagined, were being feasted on by Pronghorn Antelope and Mule Deer and the aroma must be perfuming the air and attracting the little sage grouse.

I had endured a summer of B-52 transition training out of Roswell N.M. years before and during that summer I had often spent free days walking the banks of the Pecos River, plinking at rocks and cans with a little Colt 22 Peacemaker. The air had been sweet with the aroma of the sage and now, flying over the New Mexico desert, I grew nostalgic for the peace and quiet I had enjoyed “down by the Pecos”.

I remembered we had used several auxiliary fields for our take off and landing practice that summer and now, recalling that New Mexico was replete with abandoned air fields, I wasn’t surprised when I saw an open area ahead. As the field grew in the windscreen I wondered as to its condition and, making a low pass, looked the surface over. It seemed OK from 20 feet and 100 miles an hour, so without another thought, I set up to land. Memories, rather than caution, occupied the forefront of my thoughts right then, and now in retrospect, I realize how caught up in the moment I had been. Lapses in judgment like that often lead to disaster, but this one worked out and the landing was fine. Surprisingly the surface was more packed sand than asphalt and it was like landing on grass; no sweat.

Switching off, the world was so suddenly silent that I was a little shocked. I spent a while there drinking in the quiet and thinking of those days by the river. It all seemed the same now; the smell of the sage and the stillness of the moment. It didn’t occur to me to get out; I just sat there appreciating the pleasant break from the headset, the 120 decibel cockpit and the attention this wonderful little airplane asked for.

Whatever my preoccupations, I didn’t see him approach. I looked and he was simply there. It was as though he had sat, patiently awaiting my arrival.

Back in Roswell that summer I had been told there were no wolves anymore so not to worry about walking down by the river. And yet now, there he was, staring at my airplane. He sat there for just a moment or so more, then stood, and in an easy, unconcerned gait, loped away and disappear into the tall sage.

For a while longer I watched the empty spot where he had been and wondered. My red and white sunburst world would be the most foreign thing he would ever experience. Nothing in his world could bring him to understand what he had seen. His eyes had given him a look into a world he would never comprehend. Yet he simply accepted that it was there and left it alone. Later, I would often reflect upon myself from the perspective of those eyes.

My Pitts was as foreign to his world as my world has been to my relatives and friends. Their 9 to 5 existences of comings and goings, same town, same neighborhood, has never my world. Instead it’s been trainers; bombers; fighters; transports; sports planes and racers. It’s been Goose Bay, Da Nang; Buenos Aeries, Narita, and Nouasseur.

It’s been a thousand places and airplanes and a thousand days of oceans and continents; North Pole, South Poles, the Capes of Hope and Horn; the Marshall’s and Canaries; a life as foreign to my family and friends as my little Pitts was to that wolf.

We all chose flying as a profession; in doing so we put ourselves beyond the understanding of our families. Oh, they love us alright, and they respect us as well, but understand? We speak to them of the strat, towering cu and low approaches; we tell our stories as best we can, but understand? We may as well be explaining it all to that wolf. He saw what he saw, he may even remember it, but understand? Like my family, he accepted it and left it alone.

My little bird fired right up and I was off without incident. I’ve flown a lot of hours since that day and the wolf has always been with me, a constant reminder that I love what I do, whether anyone else understands it or not.

As pilots, we live our lives in the eye of that wolf; may he always watch and wonder.
By David Rose, Contributing Editor

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