Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Adventures in Reporting #2

Regular readers might think I dislike hot air balloons, but truly that is not so. I only have problems with one particular balloonist, which is a different matter entirely.

Hot air balloons are quite lovely as they float in the sky. They are quite breathtaking and I love to watch them when they aren't scaring my cows.

In November 1986, I went up in one.

Several weeks earlier I had witnessed what, from the ground, looked liked an aircraft harrassing a hot air balloonist. I don't recall if I was at home watching this or somewhere else; at any event, it worried me enough that I wrote a column about it for The Herald. (Yes, I have been writing for them that long.) At that time I had a lifestyle column similiar to the one I have now, only it was under a different name.

Anyway, after I wrote the column expressing my concern for the balloonist, I received a note in the mail (regular mail back then, no email) from Natalie Haley. She was the balloonist I had seen. She offered me a free ride.

I couldn't turn that down, so with camera in hand and husband in tow, I met up with her one Sunday morning at what used to be Howard Johnsons (now it's a Mexican restaurant and a Super 8).

After determining wind direction with a helium balloon, Mrs. Haley decided we would set off from behind Lee's Market (now Bellacino's) in Dr. Fralin's field. She said the wind would take us along US 220 toward Fincastle.

Her balloon was called Skylark, and it was a spectacle of color whether it was on the ground or in the sky.

My husband refused to fly with me. He watched from the ground as I rose up into the clouds.

I wrote about that adventure in a first person article published on December 3, 1986, and for which I won one of the first of my several Virginia Press Association awards.

Here are some excerpts:

"The ground crew released its grip on the massive bulge of air, and suddenly we were going up! I watched my husband grow smaller and smaller as the balloon sailed high into the sky."

"Daleville and Amsterdam look like tiny towns in an HO scale train set from 800 feet in the air. The dogs and cattle sound as if they are right in the air with you. The curve of the earth looks sharp enough to cut you, and suddenly you are one with the clouds."

"The orchards looked small and naked from our vantage point. If the highway hadn't been below us, I would have been lost. The familiar was unrecognizable from our position within the clouds."

"You can't feel the wind, because you are the wind," Natalie Haley said. That aspect is part of the romanticism of the big balloons. There is nothing between the earth and you except a basket, and it was insignificant enough not to matter. Floating is not descriptive enough to describe the feeling you get when you're up there alone."

"It's so quiet and peaceful, it's easy to forget the world exists below."

We landed in a field near Trinity. After putting the balloon away, Mrs. Haley poured champaigne over my head for my maiden voyage, and presented me with a certificate as she recited what she said was the balloonist's prayer:

May the winds welcome you with softness.
May the sun bless you with his warm hands.
May you fly so high and so well that God joins you in laughter.
And may he set you back again into the loving arms of mother earth.


  1. i so love balloons and have been up in one once...enjoyed your post.

  2. Your balloon ride sounded lovely, but I must admit--I don't think I'd have the nerve to go up in one. They sure are pretty, though.

  3. Did it feel scary? Are you afraid of heights? Did your stomach turn somersaults? Is it like riding in a boat?

    I guess you survived! What a cool way to do investigative reporting!

  4. I've never taken a ride in a hot-air balloon, but I've ridden in a glider - that was fun!! We have balloon races during the winter in South Florida - talk about color and variety. But they scare the dickens out of the dogs - you know they are coming when the dogs start yelping.

  5. I am so scared to go in one of those things. Yikes! hehe....

    My parents used to take me to the airport in Roanoke when i was little to see them when they had the festival though. I still have pictures from then!


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