Friday, February 8, 2013

Look, Hortensia: A Jogger!

Yesterday, like the day before, was sunny and warm: a day that cried out for strolling in the park and soaking up sun. I put on my walking shoes and headed to the Arboretum, where dozens of like-minded people and dogs were already taking the air. No sympathetic magic was necessary yesterday; the people I saw running in shorts and Ts were dressed more appropriately than I was in my turtleneck and down jacket. The sun smiled down, and the air was nearly balmy.

On such a day, I sometimes enjoy just sitting in the sun, idly watching the clouds float by. That's what I was doing yesterday when Apollo showed up. At least, that's who I think it was. I was ensconced on a bench in the middle of the park, meditating on sunshine, when I heard the noise of an approaching helicopter. We see a lot of medical helicopters coming and going around here because of hospitals, but they normally have little reason to visit the Arboretum. This one flew overhead lazily and landed in the field across the street. Thinking some visiting dignitary might emerge, I watched to see what would happen. Either no one stepped out or I missed it, and after a couple of minutes the helicopter took off again.

I mention Apollo because he's the god of science and reason and, by association, aeronautics in general. You really sense his presence when you're around airplanes or walking through an airport, with the superstructure of a soaring atrium above your head. I guess when he's in a certain mood, he might take to a chopper. That seemed to be the case yesterday. It was a plain, dark helicopter that you couldn't see into, perfect for a god traveling incognito, except that it kind of stuck out in the bucolic suburban setting. Every neck was craned skyward as the helicopter proceeded to slowly circle a small area of the Arboretum, coming back at least three times to cruise slowly over the trees.

I don't know, maybe I'm wrong. It doesn't seem like Apollo, after all, to fly so close to the ground, directly over a park with so many people gathered below. A new kind of scavenger hunt, maybe? There are no wild mustangs in the Arboretum, so it couldn't have been a roundup. Maybe it's now legal, with the right permit, to hunt chipmunks from the air. Or maybe rich people now pay to fly over the famous LFUCG-UK Arboretum as they do the Grand Canyon, marveling at the staring locals below.

Feeling it was not really safe to sit below a rocking, nearly stationary helicopter, I got up to walk around some more. The helicopter finally flew away, leaving the blue sky and sunshine intact. Thinking it over on the way home, I decided it might be worth calling the police to see if anyone else had reported the incident or knew anything about it. I was told by the dispatcher that she had "just come on duty half an hour ago" and "didn't know what was going on" but that if that many people had been there "someone must have reported it by now." But when I asked if I could add my name to the report, she said there was no report. Then she said I should have reported it while it was happening. Hmmm. I thought someone was keeping tabs on public airspace other than random citizens, but I guess I overestimated official interest in oddly behaving aircraft.

Not feeling quite reassured by this conversation, I hunted around online for the number of the nearest FAA office. I called them today and received a call back from a gentleman who seemed pretty interested in the presence and behavior of a helicopter flying so low in a crowded area. He couldn't give me any conclusive answers but asked a lot of questions, took my report, and said any further sightings should be called in, too.

So there you have it. Be on the lookout for any random helicopters, especially if they seem to be flying low enough to knock you off a bench. If it were the end of a play, I guess we might suspect a deus ex machina, except no one descended, and nothing was solved, as far as I know. I still like my theory about the Grand Arboretum Tour but can't understand why it's necessary to get quite that close for views of scrubby grass, mothers with strollers, and middle-aged writers. Haven't these people ever heard of binoculars?