We three passengers piled our bags and bins and Bean boots and Jax the dog into the airplane, had the usual short discussion about who wanted the front seat (I do not always get it), shoehorned ourselves into our seats, and found our seat belts.

Jeremy the pilot grabbed the chocks and I waved to Paul one more time. Jeremy back-taxied to the south end of the 1600-foot surfaced gravel strip on Matinicus Island, turned the plane around, and poured on full power. As the wheels lifted, we stayed low as we crossed the boundary of land and water, slowing the climb to a gentler ascent than happens sometimes, because that is how you add airspeed. Without much of a headwind and with four people aboard, more speed would be best. I am thankful that I understand now why these pilots do what they do.

Upon arrival at Owls Head ten or 15 minutes later we all trooped into the office to pay our fare. I handed over my check, and as I stood in the office waiting to ask Sally the dispatcher a question, a young woman with two small girls in tow showed up with a pile of groceries and supplies. “Sending this to my brother on the island,” she explained, as she stuck an orange freight sticker with the recipient’s name (and particular island) on each of the big-box-store bags. When I first traveled to Matinicus to interview for the teaching job some 30-plus years ago, the woman I’d greeted in the flying service office was a girl in elementary school and her brother, the island fisherman for whom she’d been shopping, had recently graduated 8th grade. Their mom was on the school board that hired me. As much as we are all tempted to ask, “What was I thinking?” when island life gets just that weird, I am thankful I went to work in that offshore one-room school. 

After the Penobscot Island Air office emptied of people trying to get their stuff across the water, and after Sally answered the telephone and said “roger” into the aviation radio a couple of times, I asked about renting the Skyhawk. The rental airplane is a green and white Cessna 172 which, I believe, is the most common small airplane in the country, if not everywhere. The sun was out, the wind was subsiding, and I had the time. I’d saved up the money. Sally called the mechanics working at the maintenance hangar over by the Knox County Flying Club and asked them to pull the Skyhawk out so I could come get it. 

I am beyond thankful for the help, encouragement, cheerleading, advice, mentoring, and friendship of these pilots and mechanics. It is highly unlikely that I’d be flying without them, and I have so much yet to learn.

I take my sweet time doing the pre-flight inspection, measuring the fuel, filling out the weight-and-balance slip, checking the weather at surrounding airports, and getting myself and all my stuff set up in the little airplane. I take freaking forever; any “real” pilot watching me might wonder if I was ever going to start the engine. I check many things twice and am painfully slow getting ready. I probably bring too much along; I surely do not need that DeLorme atlas just for a little ride to Brunswick and back. I broke one of my own cardinal rules today (bring drinking water) and later realized I had also neglected one of my first instructor’s rules (bring an orange vest if you go flying during hunting season, just in case you put down in a field somewhere). Maybe I am getting brave. (Nah, not yet.) I am thankful to be on the way toward a little courage, even if I’ll never be a fearless 16-year-old pilot. 

Taking off was smooth; the wind at 500 to 1000 feet didn’t toss me around much, as it does sometimes. Some days there are distinct layers of air, and a calm day on the ground does not always mean a calm ride in the traffic pattern which, at Owls Head, is about 1100 feet. I am always thankful for a pleasant ride; maybe not every flight has to be a big lesson or a test of nerve! Each solo flight makes the turbulence less disturbing, though, and I am thankful for that. I flew over the peninsulas, gawked at Bath Iron Works from the air, and did a quick landing at Brunswick Executive — formerly Naval Air Station Brunswick, with its enormous and easy runway. Then, time to head back toward the cement plant — an obvious landmark for Rockland — before it got dark, consciously thankful for the good weather, the support of the guys at PIA, and the opportunity to fly in Maine, where every single trip is a scenic one.