It’s all nonsense of course, my Certificate d’Ascension en Machine Aerostatique, which grandly proclaims “Let it be known from this day forth that Linda and Winslow Pettingell has (sic) ascended into the sky in a Hot Air Balloon…etc.” and in addition to the smudged date, 12th of April 1996, and the fact that it took place in Phoenix, Arizona, it also includes the post-flight Balloonist’s Prayer:
The winds have welcomed you with softness,
The sun has greeted you with it’s warm hands,
You have flown so high and so well,
That God has joined you in laughter,
And set you back gently into
The loving arms of Mother Earth.
How I ever got my wife into that basket I’ll never know, but if we were ever to lose our memories, along with all the pictures I took during that early morning excursion, then this hokey Certificate d’Ascension hanging on the wall outside my office (hey, never got anything like this for making a bungee jump) will still serve as proof that we accomplished something that I, at least, had always wanted to do.
As to what it was like, allow me to boldly steal a passage from “My Air-Ships” the 1904 autobiography of a once world-famous early aviator named Alberto Santos-Dumont:
“Suddenly the wind ceased. The air seemed motionless around us. We were off, going at the speed of the air-current in which we now lived and moved. Indeed, for us there was no more wind; and this is the first great fact of spherical ballooning. Infinitely gentle is this unfelt motion forward and upward. The illusion is complete: it seems not to be the balloon that moves, but the earth that sinks down and away… “
Which is precisely the sensation that the fabled Icarus might have experienced. We all know the story… of the master artist, Daedalus who (according to Greek mythology) builds a labyrinth for King Minos of Crete to imprison the Minotaur. After he himself is imprisoned with his son, Icarus, the inspired Daedalus fashions two sets of wings with wax and feathers, but warns his son to follow his flight path, staying far above the sea and well away from the sun.
Essentially the boy then experiences the first four lines of the Balloonist’s Prayer, but tragically, not the final two. Overcome by giddiness Icarus forgets his father’s warnings not to fly too close to the sun, which melts the wax that holds the feathers in place, and he plummets into the sea.
There have been countless literary, artistic and musical references to the classical tale through the centuries, including this one, originally featured as the title track on the Paul Winter Consort’s 1972 album “Icarus”. This is a later version of the piece from Winter’s 1978 album, “Common Ground”…tumbling conclusion and all. How did I manage to get my wife in that basket?