The Amateur over the Badlands

by Marjorie Salzwedel


Wilson finished reading the checklist and buckled himself in for the practice run. He threw his white scarf over his shoulder and waved at his sixteen-year-old sister, Sarah, before he pulled the door closed. After buttoning the collar of his flight jacket, the young pilot adjusted his earmuffs and reached for his sunglasses as the sun rose over the grassy South Dakota prairie. Turning the key, he tilted his head to listen to the motor as he mimicked the putt-putt-putt of the rotors above.

He knew the flight plan to take the whirlybird up and to the west of the grassland to the east rim of the Badlands. It was an adventure to navigate a few miles over the barren rock ridges and wind-eroded granite peaks streaked with orange, pink and yellow.

He kept a grip on the control sticks, keeping them dead center when he hovered for practice, and adjusted for sudden and extreme wind changes over the jagged rocks as his father had warned. His feet were braced on the foot pedals as he controlled the rear rotor before he turned the helicopter toward the grassland and faced the sunrise. The red barn and the cows in the pasture amused him, a mile in from the rocky rim. He prepared for the grassy-field landing.

Wilson pushed up his ear flaps. He grasped the control sticks when he felt a thump. Down he went.

“No!” He protested.

He had leaned too far forward. Sprawled and on his knees on the thick beige carpet of the living room floor at his home on Long Island, the five-year-old gasped and pulled on the end of his father’s long belt, unbuckling it from around the small child’s rocker and his waist. He pushed the broom handles out of the way and pulled the chair off his back.

“Wow. Not a scratch,” he said.

The trip to the Badlands a few months ago played out in the boy’s head. He had mimicked what he remembered of the tour pilot’s maneuvers during the helicopter ride over a few miles of the rocky ground that stretched more than three hundred miles and looked like a desolate uninhabited planet.

Wilson knew that his sister had been watching from an easy chair in the corner. He smiled at her as she looked up from behind a book and giggled, her violet eyes, wide.

He knew she remembered the helicopter ride the two of them took over the Badlands and had liked the handsome pilot working the control sticks and the pedals. Halfway through the scenic ride the young tour pilot took them all the way back to the grassy field and down to the ground so she could get the camera she left in the car. Then they started the tour all over again with no extra charge.

Wilson saw Sarah smile as he got up from the floor.

“I’m an amateur flying over the Badlands,” he told her.


Copyright © 2007 by Marjorie Salzwedel

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