When weather mattered differently
September 13, 2013
The event was called, Autumn Aloft, and it was held right around this time of year, here, in my greater neighborhood by people who knew such things, who had determined it was the most predictably dry weekend of the year. It was a hot air balloon festival in the early 80s, with dozens of balloons arriving from all over the country to float above Park City for three (or was it four ?) days.
And it was right here, in Park Meadows, when it was still filled with meadows. Alfalfa fields, I think, to be exact, where now there are dozens and dozens of houses. It started in the dark, of course, as all good festivals do, and it needed dozens and dozens of volunteers to help lay out the balloons and clear the path for the chase vehicles, who would follow those balloons for miles up and over the hills and mountains to wherever they landed. And the landings included champagne for first time riders and pins with the balloons logo on it and certificates of your safe landing.
Children were let out of school (or perhaps I just didn’t make my kids go). And they ran around from balloon to balloon that, when inflated, took on the shapes of frogs and carousel horses and some striped, like vertical rainbows. Photographers came from all over to take pictures of the spectacle and we all – all who wanted – had chances to ride in the balloons for free.
It was a magical time. And like so many magical times it was over all too soon.
The land became too valuable to leave vacant and homes were built where vacant fields once stood. New city residents found the balloon noises annoying and didn’t want the colorful crafts huddling over their house or whooshing above them. We no longer made room for the balloons at all in town.
But whenever I see a balloon floating in the morning sky (they fly in the mornings because the temperature is right) I remember my first ride when I lifted off. And it wasn’t a whoosh, like a rocket ride or that umph you often feel from a commercial plane. It was gentle, so gentle and the earth just slowly pulled away from the balloon. And we floated over farmlands (there were so many more farmlands here back then) and treetops and even the tops of buildings. "I wish you soft landings" became a kind of shorthand for balloonists and voyeurs and wanna-bes.
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There are still great folks who bring their balloons to town and fly them out in the county and you can see those balloons dot the sky on both summer and winter mornings. And there are very sophisticated weather tools that tell when to take the risk and when to stay on the ground.
Sometimes when I dream, I am in one of those balloons. I am floating over the rooftops and treetops and even mountain tops in Park City. And looking down it is peaceful and quiet, so quiet. So very quiet.
This morning I woke up again to the sound of rolling thunder and rain hitting the roof and the decks. It would not have been the right weekend for the balloons to fly. The weather patterns have changed and my greater neighborhood is now filled with giant houses and a golf course that is very private. There are more new people than longtime residents here. Among the hundreds of people here now, there probably aren’t a dozen who were actually living here when the balloons flew above us.
Sometimes I wonder if all these times I remember about Park City were really so watercolored and simple. Everyone has things they miss about "old" Park City. It just seems to depend upon when you moved here and what is gone.
The rain in September seems strange and out of place. So much of it anyway. But I love it. My yard, so parched in the unrelenting heat of this June, is now lush and after the storm I can hear the trees drip for hours. My little garden has tomatoes growing happily on my tiny bush and the seeds I planted so late, in July, now have squash flowers on them that could still become pumpkins. The mushrooms in the grass make me laugh for some reason when I see them. Mushrooms in a desert climate, in the mountains, how much sillier could it all be?
I like the cool nights and days when I am forced to find fat socks to pad around the house and sweaters or sweatshirts to wear while I do chores that have been ignored all summer. It is a less-forced kind of fall cleaning that never happened in spring or any other time this year. I tackle a different room, closet or corner of the garage each weekend. And I don’t seem to mind since the weather isn’t inviting me out on hikes in the changing aspens.
Something tells me those days will come later. Maybe mid-October or early November. I don’t think we’ve lost them, completely. They are just displaced. Repurposed, as folks like to say about items and things no longer desired for their original use but given newfound life in different ways.
This weekend, I will find time to wander (in my mind) among the fields that once were open all around me in my neighborhood. I will take comfort from under my covered porch, watch the storms and count the new friends who have moved into those homes that now cover those fields. And I will remind myself, to everything there is a season, even when the seasons themselves change. It may not seem like much but it is as much as I need to think about this Sunday in the Park.
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the organization that provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.
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