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Flying High

searchWhen is an envelope not stuffed with a letter? A bucket, not filled with water? When the envelope is six stories tall, looks like a gigantic beach ball, and is filled with air heated by a propane burner. When the bucket is a heavy wicker basket and large enough for at least one person to stand inside. To a hot-air balloon pilot – it’s an envelope and bucket. To me – a balloon and basket.

Sometimes I see a hot-air balloon float lazily across the sky. A beautiful, amazing sight. I wanted to see more than one or two fly at the same time and that meant going to a balloon festival. Not just any balloon festival; the one I first read about in a weekly news magazine in the mid 1980’s with my sixth-grade students. The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta that is held in October every year. The world’s largest collection of hot-air balloons.

As Husband and I rode on a bus from our Albuquerque hotel to Fiesta Park, our group guide encouraged us to walk to the middle of the park – flat level ground the size of fifty-four football fields! Get as close to the balloons as possible, he’d said. And we did. At 6:15 a.m. before the sun rose in the New Mexico sky, we headed toward an area where a few balloons stood tall on the ground. We were three feet away from a wicker basket and propane flames shot high above our heads into an inflated rainbow colored balloon. I was sure it would would rise any second. It didn’t. Other balloons, stretched out flat on the grass all around us, began to inflate. Soon we were standing in a balloon forest.

Hot-air balloons launch when the temperature is cool and there is very little wind. Had we travelled across country only to see inflated balloons on the ground? Our guide had explained that although launches were planned for every morning of the nine-day fiesta, there’s only one way to know for sure if the balloons will go up. “When you see the bottom of the baskets, you know they’re flying.” A slight breeze on that 45° morning made me pull my jacket hood tighter over my head.

Then two men, wearing black and white striped jackets and called zebras, blew whistles, raised their arms, and shouted, “Move back. Give them space!” Along with others crowded around the rainbow balloon, Husband and I stepped backwards. But only a few steps. And very slowly the balloon lifted into the air. Applause and cheers broke out from those of us on the ground. The pilot and his passenger waved their caps as they flew over us.

A thousand words, not even a hundred thousand words, can describe the sight that morning. As the sun rose so did the hot-air balloons. Mostly round ones, but over 100 special shape balloons. Like a black and white cow that was so huge that the basket where four people stood was minute compared to the cow’s hoof.   Like Mr. Potato Head and a motorcycle and Noah’s Ark, complete with animals – ten times larger that the real animals.

I said to Husband, “Let’s just take a minute to look around and up in the air and try to take it all in. There are over 550 balloons here.” As far as I could see toward the northern horizon, balloons filled the partly cloudy sky and all around us others lay on the ground or stood inflated, preparing to fly. It was all I imagined and more.


One Response

  1. Did you go up in one?


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