17 September 2009

patterns in the sky


We took off from Tyagarah just after dawn on Sunday. By the time we reached Burketown the following afternoon, over 1000 miles had passed beneath us. I watched rhyolitic peaks rise out of the forest as we crossed over the Tweed Caldera and the Great Dividing Range, and witnessed them sink again when we traveled west. The green army of beeches and bromeliads suddenly came to a halt at the lip of a tawny-colored soup. Outback Queensland splayed out beneath us as far as we could see from eight thousand feet aloft. Dusty brown roads connected cattle station to cattle station, leading at some point to a town only a handful could call home. Rivers became the great sculptors of the land. Their burly arms writhed like snakes with thin stripes of trees on either side. When a curious finger of a river ran dry, the trees vanished and left naked ruts in the sand leading nowhere. Most, it seemed, were dry. It wasn't until we neared the gulf on the second day that we glimpsed flowing water again.


We arrived Monday afternoon, a bit cramped from almost nine hours in the plane, but happy to breathe the heat-laden air of Burketown. On Tuesday, we rose before five and spun our props by the day's first light. As we climbed from the runway, we could see a line of clouds building on the horizon to the northeast. According to local residents and pilots, a well-formed Morning Glory had plowed across the gulf the previous day. What we saw that morning was a second breath of the same type of system, but not as smoothly rolling as its predecessor. It was advancing slowly south-westward nearly 30 miles out to sea. While not producing enough lift for us to soar, it was nevertheless a magnificent sight.


On the prowl for the Morning Glory, we join a handful of other pilots from around the country gathered here in Burketown seeking a ride on the famous cloud. I'll be here for another two weeks. Hopefully, the winds will send her our way.
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