The Balsa Airplane

The girl wound the rubber band propeller of the balsa wood airplane. She examined the small aircraft: the right wing had a small chunk missing, the red propeller was gouged deeply, and the thin line of the belly was splintered. She looked sidelong at her little brother, his eyes wide.

“Can I throw this one?” he asked.

“You just threw it, like five throws ago.”

“Yea, but you threw more than me.” The girl held his blue eyes in hers until he bowed his head, trying to concentrate on the dinosaurs that ran up and down the sleeves of his shirt. Her red hair burned in the glowing sun and her eyes didn’t move from the top of his head. Her long finger wound the propeller.

“Of course I threw more than you. I throw it better.”

“Yea, but I just want to throw it. Mom said to let me throw it sometimes.”

“Fine, you can throw this next one. Just don’t break it or anything. Just throw it across the grass there, not toward the trees, or the school, or the playground. Just throw it that way,” she pointed at the open field.

She stretched her hands out, her right supporting the wooden fuselage and the left holding the steady tension in the rubber band. “Take it!” she yelled.

The boy’s hands shot clumsily forward. She jammed the plane towards them. For a moment, the propeller unwound, whirring open and sending the rubber band’s energy into the ether.

“You idiot! Hold the plane! You need to hold the propeller!” The boy stood with the plane in his upraised hands as she spun the propeller back to full power. She crossed her arms and looked out across the patch of grass. “Throw it you spaz. Hurry up!”

He loaded his arm back and released the tension in the propeller. The plane whirled past his ear and ahead of his hand, his small body unable to keep up with the physics of the vehicle. It flew wildly from his hand, gaining altitude at a high angle and floating toward the line of trees that bordered the schoolyard. It climbed nearly vertically, rolling over on its right side as it drifted toward the tall pines. It pulled a rolling backflip, dove toward the ground for a moment, then shot upward, higher than the trees, where it’s rubber band power was exhausted. It stalled, and fluttered like a dead bird into the upper reaches of a strong pine.

“You are an idiot!”

The girl broke into a run across the yard and leaped into the tree. Her lithe body moved upward, as if being drawn on a string. Her feet pranced off one branch, then another as she made her choreographed ascent. Halfway up the tree, she turned and looked down at the boy who stood below her.

“You coming up or what?”

The boy didn’t answer. The girl snapped her head around, her fiery pony tail lashing out behind her as she scaled the tree higher. Her freckled face was round, not chubby, but solidly round. Her hands, although thin, were strong for a child of nine, and her quiet coldness was that of a woman who scoffs at smudged silverware.

“Come on,” she hissed at the boy. Her eyes grew wider and sharper. “Mom will see you if you’re just standing there. Either climb up here, or go away! Go hide around the corner of the school before Mom comes out!” Her eyes held his.

The boy kicked at the ground and the smooth skin around his eyes grew puffy. He swung his arms, seeking solace in the dinosaurs. Finding none there, he turned around, hoping to find another child, or an adult, or anyone else in the schoolyard.

“What are you doing?!”

The girl caught glimpses of his tortured, reddening face through the pine needles; she refused to release him.

“Do something! Just go away!” the girl cried from above. She heaved an animal sigh and sent an unspeakable word down to her brother. When he heard it, his nervous motion halted and his eyes swelled. He rubbed his shirt sleeve across his face; a green triceratops with a toothy smile soaked in his quiet tears. Noiselessly, he turned from the base of the tree and ran toward the school.

The girl watched him enter the heavy double doors before turning back toward the plane. She climbed, her body being supported by thinner and thinner branches as she reached the upper canopy. The thinning trunk began to sway with her weight, gently leaning away from the breeze before snapping supply back upright. The canopy of thin needles obscured her view of the plane, and the sun rained in on her through fluttering gaps. Her strong fingers reached out to the plane, hung on a tuft of green needles; she nudged the red propeller that lay just out of reach. The wind swam softly through her red hair, floating it into her eyes. Her fingers nudged the red propeller again. She wedged her foot higher into a small branch and pushed.

“Alexandra! You had better not be where I think you are!” her mother’s voice rang up from below. She was unseen at the base of the tree, but the girl could picture her: her brown hair was swept back, exposing the dangling, gold earrings. The neckline of her modest shirt plunged, exposing her ornate necklace. And she yelled through her thin lips without her face moving much.

“Get down here right now!”

The young boy stood at his mother’s side, looking into the tree that had swallowed up his sister. The delicate skin around his eyes was red and swollen.

The girl felt a slight sway in the tree. She pushed harder into her foothold. Her body tensed as she floated with the breeze toward the balsa wood plane. In the next moment, she reached it and was flying along with it. The upper bough broke with a silent crack, and the red haired girl fell through the thin branches of green needles. She rolled sideways over the first thick branch she encountered, then plummeted headfirst past another. Her legs struck the trunk beside her, and she turned over. Her mother screamed and her brother held his breath as the limbs moved above them. She came tumbling into sight, legs scraping branches and her free hand grasping at air. Her body rolled over, her back arched over a thick, low branch, and her trembling legs found another. She stuck there like a piece of bologna on the cafeteria floor.

“Alexandra! Are you alright!? Alexandra, say something!”

The girl pulled herself up, tears rolling rapidly from her eyes. Pine needles clung to her hair as she swung down from the low canopy and into the arms of her mother.

                                                                                                     ***
Their mother drove in silence, her thin lips pursed.

“How are you feeling? Your back doesn’t hurt too much?” She rubbed the girl’s back and caressed her scratched, stinging arms.

“I’m okay,” the girl whispered as she looked out of the passenger window.

“Ok, we’ll get home and give you some ibuprofen and put some ice on it. And we’ll get all those little scrapes cleaned up.” Her mother cast a glance toward her before pulling through a stop sign. “It will be ok.”

The boy sat in the back seat, his eyes cast forward through the front windshield. As his fingers ran silently over the broken body of the balsa airplane, he found himself wishing that something else had happened. He wondered, for the first time in his life, what it would be like if he didn’t have an older sister.

August William Orange

August William Orange woke to the clatter of angels bowling, as his mother used to say. A storm had rolled in while he slept. It threw down its white fangs to the earth as it rolled across the low country that he called home. The drops of rain clanged on the tin roof in tight, hollow taps. August slipped back down into his cot and pulled his single wool blanket up around his chin.

The atmosphere teemed with fury, slowly collecting the energy of a million atoms in the dark sky. A bolt of lightning peeled out of the clouds, ripping into the huge, old oak that stood next to August’s small shanty. August’s eyes shot open as he scurried to the window. Looking out, he saw a large branch swing wildly from the wooden monster, break free, and plummet to the ground beside the window. Looking back up to the glowing embers of the canopy, August could make out the altered physique of the decimated tree. The core was split open, a wide crack ran down the middle of the trunk, and the flaming upper reaches bowed outward, away from the clean, crisp cut of the bolt. The oak groaned under its new strain, fighting to keep upright. The fire in the upper reaches soon went out with the falling rain, and all that remained was the wounded tree, teetering above August’s only home. It is not angels, August thought, but the devil who bowls tonight.  

August crossed his shanty in five steps to the front door. He threw it open and ran outside to inspect the threat. The devil’s bolt had inflicted a devastating wound upon the large oak that shaded his plot of land. He silently cursed the bowling devil as he mentally calculated the probable angle of descent; the tree was bound to fall. It swayed with the flowing winds, and screamed out in pain with every movement. It transformed before August’s eyes from a wounded protector of the shanty to a possessed creature of hell. He turned away from the black-barked horror and set his mind to the salvation of his shack.

Wheels! Why didn’t I build wheels onto this little shack! August lamented. Rain dropped onto his balding head and soaked his ratty clothes. His left hand went to his chin in thought. I could pull it out of the way, maybe, if it had wheels. Could I put wheels on it now? Is that possible? 

The tree groaned its mocking disapproval above him. More forks of lightning shot down from the sky, illuminating the other trees that stood around his property. They seemed to be waiting, like morbid soldiers, for their oaken commander to commence the attack upon August’s shanty.

August thought over his options: Try to roll the shanty over, pushing it out of the way? No, impossible for an old man, maybe if I was younger. Take out the valuables in the shanty? No, I’d have to leave them out in the rain; they’d be ruined anyway. Let the tree fall on the shanty? No! I can’t just give up!

Wheels! he cried out again. Why did I not put wheels? 

August looked up at the oak in despair. He could have done so much if he had put wheels on his little shanty. He could have hooked it up to a truck every once in a  while and moved all around the country. He could have seen so many things: Niagara Falls, the Grand Canyon, the Rio Grande, the Black Hills, the Pacific and the Atlantic. He could have gone anywhere he wanted. Now he was stuck on a plot of worthless land in the backcountry, helpless and immobile. He grew old in a place that meant nothing to him. He saw nothing new, did nothing special, and felt nothing inside. If only I had put wheels on this thing, he muttered. I could have been happy.  

A hollow crack split the air as the tree’s gaping chest wound opened wide. Droplets fell from the jilted leaves, sending down an advance army of blinding rain into August’s eyes. The giant oak began to bow toward the shanty — a hideous servant of Satan. August shielded his eyes from the onslaught, but a smile of hope grew on his face. I could still put those wheels on, he thought. Get wheels, move around, see things. I’ll cross this land from Pacific to Atlantic. I will be happy. He hobbled like a wounded crusader to the base of the tree, placed his hands against it, and pushed with all his elderly might, hoping to divert the course of the oak away from the shanty. His feet dug in to the muddy earth, his veiny hands pushed at the black bark, his head pulsed with the blood of exertion. The tree began to twist upon the axis of its wound. It spun like a tortured demon breaking free of its chains; howling and turning, it made its unholy descent toward earth.

August didn’t just push against a dying oak, but the designs of the devil who bowled in the realm of angels. He pushed until he lost his footing and slid beneath the towering trunk. The tree plummeted toward earth, falling along the cursed line of descent that August had fought to alter. The shanty’s tin roof dove in upon itself, crumpling to the ground along with all of August’s earthly possessions.

The storm passed east over the open country, floating toward the Atlantic. A neighbor, out to survey the damage the next morning, found August. A smile crossed the face though the body was broken. They scattered his ashes to the wind; August William Orange was carried on wings of angels across the country, from Pacific to Atlantic.

 

Image courtesy Library of Congress; Old oak trees: MN Moran

Shoe Review #2 – Merrell Bare Access 2

This post is a bit late, but I was checking out some other Merrell Barefoot shoes, and it reminded me that I had this post in the hopper for almost a year now! In my extended review on the Trail Gloves and Sonic Gloves, which are more minimalist than the Bare Access 2’s, I said:

I’m hoping as I hit some rocky areas in PA and NJ, I can continue to deal with the ground feel issues I’ve had. I think I can, but I admit, there are some times where I get very frustrated (not with the shoes, but just at the general situation).

My answer to my “ground feel issues” (that’s a clever way of saying that my feet hurt like hell), was the purchase of my Merrell Bare Access 2’s. I purchased them in Port Clinton, PA, right at the start of the rockiest, most terrible portion of the AT. (Side note: When I purchased them, I incorrectly said in my blog entry that they were Merrell Trail Glove 2’s.) The trail, at some points during the Pennsylvania/New Jersey portion, is so miserably rocky, that it is difficult to hike. Rock points seem to find their way into the most vulnerable joints of your shoes, toes are stubbed, and strong ankles feel shaky. But, like with most of the trail, that is only the physical part. The multi mile treks over these rocks, not big enough to carry all of your footprint, and not small enough to conform to a single step, become mental gauntlets. Many times I had to sit and regain my mental stamina during the day. My eyes were locked downward for hours on end, picking out each and every step and foot placement even more so than at any point in the trail. To give you an idea of what it was like, here’s a video I took:

With that said, I am so amazingly happy that I purchased the Bare Access 2’s at the point I did. The trail was still pretty brutal, but I think I would have completely lost my mind had I not had the Bare Access 2’s. They are more more cushioned than the Trail Gloves or Sonic Gloves, which gave me more forgiveness over the rocks. The BA2’s have 8mm of cushioning and a 13.5mm stack height. That is in comparison to the Trail/Sonic Gloves, which have 4mm cushion plus a 1mm rock plate, and somewhere around a 10mm stack height. It may not seem like much, but those extra few millimeters of material between foot and rocky ground make a huge difference. Like the Trail/Sonic Gloves, the BA2’s were also zero dropped (no difference between stack height at heel and at toe), which I loved.

BA2

The Vibram soles of the BA2’s held up well for the 400 to 500 miles I wore them. Although the tread wasn’t as aggressive and grippy as the Sonic/Trail Gloves, they were just as resilient. The toe cap also remained fully intact — I couldn’t say the same for the Sonic/Trail Gloves. The core of the shoe, the sole, was excellent. However, the same can’t be said of the mesh and synthetic uppers. They took quite a beating over the time I wore them as you can see. Holes opened up all along the upper, especially at the front sides. Eventually, I switched back to my old Sonic Gloves in order to finish the last few hundred miles of my thru hike — the BA2’s just wouldn’t have made it all the way to Katahdin. The Sonic/Trail Gloves were much more rugged than the BA2’s. But what the Bare Access 2’s lack in ruggedness, they make up for in comfort and cushioning. Without the extra cushioning, my trek through the rocks of Pennsylvania would have been a living nightmare.

BA2 Outsole

 

Overall, I am thrilled to have picked up the Bare Access 2’s. They saved me a lot of mental anguish by giving me that extra bit of cushioning. My feet were fairly numb by this point, but that doesn’t mean I still didn’t feel pressure and discomfort. Although the uppers didn’t hold up for too long, they were a worthy purchase for the intense terrain that I needed them for. Good work Merrell — you win again!