Ahead of the Plane

Many people seem to see the life of a craftsperson/artist as one of freedom from routine. Their idea is that, when we do wAhat we love, there is a freedom that loosens our bonds from following the same pathways day after day. This has not proven to be true in my life. There is a kind of freedom in my work, but is a freedom to reach higher, wider and deeper, but not to go untethered.

My work involves engagement with some very dangerous and unforgiving machines. It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve used one of them safely. The important time is this one. Don’t follow the safety steps, skip something because you are in a hurry, and you may lose a finger or worse.

I had a nephew who flew a duster plane for farmers in Eastern Arkansas. He sprayed insecticides and herbicides, among other things, on crops. This involved him making low level sweeps across fields with occasional hedge rows and trees growing in or near them. There were also the power lines to avoid. He did this for many years. In fact, he had an uncle that did it before him. I asked him what was the key to flying in all these situations, day after day, without an accident. He said in your mind you had to be five hundred feet in front of the plane. It was on a time when he didn’t follow his own advice that he crashed and was burned to flinders. He left behind a wife and young daughters as well as a heavy load of grief in our family.

Among other things, this has been an object lesson to me to remember. When I walk through the door of the shop, I must stay ahead of the plane.