Thursday, July 31, 2008


A poem by Maxine Kumin. I'm not entirely sure what it all means, and Kumin herself admits that some of her poetry mystifies her. She also has said that the best poems take years to understand.

by Maxine W. Kumin

The water closing
over us and the
going down is all.
Gills are given.
We convert in a
town of broken hulls
and green doubloons.
O you dead pirates
hear us! There is
no salvage. All
you know is the color
of warm caramel. All
is salt. See how
our eyes have migrated
to the uphill side?
Now we are new round
mouths and no spines
letting the water cover.
It happens over
and over, me in
your body and you
in mine.

Friday, July 18, 2008


A first exploration of words to convey the sensations of unpowered flight.


The dream is always the same, and has been since I was young.

It’s dusk, and I’m running, and my strides get longer until finally I don’t touch the ground at all. I lean forward until I’m horizontal to the ground and spread my arms and begin to climb. The buildings below are oddly crooked and ancient-looking. There are steeples and black roof slates; it’s England. I move out past the buildings and over pastures. My flight is silent. When I roll my body a little to the left, dipping down my arm, I begin a long, slow loop back towards the village. I swoop low and land barefoot on dewy grass.

There is not much difference between the dream and the reality. When you lean forward and the paraglider—a fabric wing much like a hang-glider—inflates, you are moments from flight. Your strides extend, and the wing pulls up; it wants to fly. Then your boot touches the ground for the last time and the slope drops away as you slide forward through the air as though on a flawless glass rail. You are suspended by an array of fine lines that bridle out to the wide wing above.

The feeling of suspension is deeply very familiar and it reminds you of something very important.

The ground slides beneath you and you’re aware of the strangeness of moving without touching the Earth. The wing senses every whorl and ripple of air; these are telegraphed down the lines to you, your body picks them up as a swift rise or a soft long shove from the side that crabs you to the side. By shifting your weight in your seat, or drawing lightly on a brake line, you turn the wing back the way you want to go. Flying is easy. Looking down, you are muted by the simplicity of the paraglider and the calm of flight.

You are not afraid.

You do not want anything.

(c) 2008 by Cameron M. Smith

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Helmet Test Flight #1

Over the weekend a few test flights with the customized paragliding helmet I'll use in Alaska this coming winter; in the image above, I'm coming in for landing over some vehicles on the beach at Cape Kiwanda. In the video below, you can see launch, flight and landing by several cameras, including my helmet-cam.

I haven't found the words, yet, to describe flying, but I will.

Monday, July 7, 2008

The Sunken Forest

While Blackwater Lake was still, Gee Creek water is active, and the flow increases where the creek narrows. Yesterday I lashed into a line and swam out to the middle where I hooked the line over a branch to avoid being swept downstream. Todd held the other end of the line and when it was time for me to dive, he paid it out. Deep breath and then face down, suddenly I can't see anything, not even my hand a foot in front of my mask; only a uniform, toffee-colored silty riverstream flowing against my body. To go down I have to hand-over-hand down a branch, and at the bottom I grope blindly, branches grabbing at me, threatening to hook my lifeline. When I wrap an arm deep in the muck and under a log the log slowly rises and starts to tilt back at me with the current. Water is 800 times denser than air, and even a three-mile an-hour current easily swings waterlogged logs like toys. The log tilts back, I can feel the mass of it coming up like heavy post and now it sways at me and I roll to the side and let it pass. I can't see it but I can sense its mass drifting past me to settle with a soft, scary thud a few feet downstream. Still nothing to see, just the opaque tan haze against my maskplate, just an inch from my eyes. Used to SCUBA diving, I feel strange unable to take a breath here underwater. The branch I'm holding vibrates slightly, humming in the current. Now a hard, slick branch or log bumps my side then slides downstream, it's time to go up; I don't like moving objects coming at me out of nowhere. At the surface I resist the temptation to go ashore. I keep diving until I feel comfortable--or at least not completely uncomfortable--skin-diving among the timbers and snags of this little Sunken Forest.

Above, a sketch of something you can't actually see. This is grease pencil and graphite on paper, scanned and then the lower half inverted. I'm experimenting with this medium because next month Dad will be teaching me lithography. Below I hang onto the line, about to dip down.

Todd Olson is maintaining a website of our search for underwater artifacts on the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge (yes, we have permits :)).