I first saw it on a winter day. We sat in the Cessna 172 cockpit, 1,000 feet above a white ridge. The propeller pulled us through sub-freezing air, the heater warming my student in shirtsleeves, me in pilot’s uniform. Sierra Nevada Mountains rose before us, gray granite pushing up through thick snow spiced with dark forest. Pockets of morning fog clung to secret canyons, hiding from morning sun. Deep blue sky arched above, laced with thin, wispy clouds.
“A hundred years ago,” I said, “no amount of money could buy us this.” We sat in safety and comfort where neither king nor general nor railroad tycoon could have passed.
Years later, flying for MAF in the Andes Mountains of Ecuador, I remembered that revelation. Snow covered volcano, Altar, pierced the sky. Closer, jungled foothills mounted successive ridges to the lofty peaks. From the closest cliffs, waterfalls cascaded hundreds of feet, long silver arrows racing to hidden rivers below, without name, on no map, known only to their Creator.
Everyday, I experienced what only the tinniest fraction of humans would ever know—beauty’s delight combined with precision’s satisfaction. I’ve taken off, climbed into gray soup hiding ground and sky, flown 500 miles by instruments alone, then descended to have the runway appear before me—just as planned. I’ve seen mountain lakes hidden in meadows only deer and bear know. I’ve looked down atop soaring eagles, seen whales glide under waves. I’ve woven between thousand foot pillars of moon-lit cloud landscapes unimagined by those sleeping below. I’ve aimed towards complete-circle rainbows set against dark clouds in air bejeweled with a million silver drops. I’ve climbed high above plain and peak, breathing tanked oxygen in rarified air, then spiraled down over a village to reenter the world of men.
More than birds hunting food, more than clouds waiting to rain, God granted me the freedom of three-dimensional life. And as if that weren’t enough, he asked me to do the very thing I love to serve the people he loves. How could I not be thankful?