August 19

National Aviation Day (U.S.)

Orville Wright (b. 1871)

 

If you could jump.  If you could fly.

You see fires burning in the far distance, on one side of the chasm — one of many chasms that split the Earth along fault lines and shattered continents into pieces.

Those fires, you’re certain, are not the aftermath of explosions or other destructive events.  They are small fires for night time warmth, for light, for the cooking of meals.  They are signs of life.

You’re standing alone on an island.  No matter which way you walk, you soon hit a dead end:  the ledge of a newly formed cliff that drops farther than you can see, the opposite edge too far to leap across.

The island comprises about a dozen acres of mostly barren land, with a few small trees and waist-high weeds in the north section.  You’d tried to fashion some kind of rope out of weed and branch fibers, but could never manage anything strong enough to hold your weight.

No buildings, no tools, no salvageable wood.  Your best shot, for many days, was to cup your hands around your mouth and shout for help.

Nobody seemed to hear you.  As more days passed, your voice grew weaker.

Possibly from delirium, you started to dream about flying.

You took a small branch and tried to trace a diagram in the dirt.  You thought:  this is probably how Frank and Orville Wright began their experiments in aviation.  They first experimented with crude glider designs, inspired by birds’ wings.  Although the finished airplane flew for almost 1,000 feet in their famous exhibition, you need only a tenth of that distance to cross the shortest point from your island to the surrounding world.

Occasional birds seemed to mock you as they flew effortlessly above.  You uprooted small trees, pulled off bark, plucked weed strands, then used these natural materials to combine scraps ripped off your shirt and trousers to make a crude kite-like contraption.

The right gust of wind, you convinced yourself, could catch this leaf-feathered kite as you held it over your head, kicked off the edge of your island, and cycled you feet frantically in the air like an Olympic long jumper.  You’re so light now, from lack of eating, it feels as if your bones are hollow.  For an instant, just long enough to cross the chasm, you’ll be able to fly.

You stand at the edge of your island, waiting for the wind to shift.  The distance across the deep chasm, even at this closest point, seems far — so you close your eyes, trying not to think about it.  Wings rustle as a bird passes overhead.  The leaves on your own wings rustle too, as if in answer, and you feel a tug in your arms as the contraption lifts.  Soon, you’ll be with other survivors, the heat of a small fire warming your face. You take a deep breath, and jump.

Time seems to stand still.  You rise high, higher, but haven’t touched the ground yet.  It’s only when you think you’ve almost crossed the chasm that you let yourself open your eyes.