On October 26, 2019, Steve Aaron and I stood on a vantage point near the summit of Balsam Mountain and celebrated his completion of the Thirty Five. We stared across the valley at pumpkin-colored ridges and frothy marshmallow-mist swirling beneath cerulean sky, while overhead the clouds spread out into a celestial ribcage (the scientific term is cirrus vertebratus) and I thought, how strange that the sky would celebrate Steve’s accomplishment and then, wouldn’t it be even stranger if this was all coincidence….
He staggered for a step or two. I saw the concentration in his eyes. The inward scan and assessment. He seemed to understand that he could not go on. He seemed to accept it.
Afterwards, we called my son to let him know. My wife relayed the news, while I tried to add a comment but somehow couldn’t speak. Later I retrieved an image and sent it to my son. And then I dove into a decade’s worth of photos and began the process of reflecting and understanding….
The recent hit movie Top Gun: Maverick opens with Tom Cruise in a pickle. He’s test pilot for a next-generation stealth jet with a sleek black body reminiscent of the SR-71 Blackbird spy plane (which people my age might remember from growing up in the 1970s). Cruise is gearing up for a test-flight in which he’ll take the jet to Mach 9, when he gets word that the Navy brass intends to kill the project….