Nothing by Chance

I reach for a book on my shelf and am pleasantly surprised.

I had a Grand Canyon charter the other day. Although most Canyon visitors like to walk along the rim and enjoy the view, I’ve been so tired from work lately that I thought I might like to spend my wait time in a comfortable chair in a hotel lobby, reading a book. So before leaving home on Wednesday morning, I went into our little library and pulled a paperback I hadn’t read yet off the shelf. The book was Nothing by Chance by Richard Bach.

I was introduced to Bach’s writing when I was in high school. His book, Jonathan Livingston Seagull was a huge bestseller back then and all the students who liked to read read it. (Wow, is that a weird sentence construction: “…read read…”) I don’t remember the book very well and plan to read it again soon.

This book, which was published in 1969, is one of Bach’s flying books. He wrote several of them and they’re carried by most good pilot shops. I bought this copy at least two years ago from Aero Phoenix, the wholesale pilot supply shop I used to buy products for resale in the little pilot shop I had at Wickenburg Airport. I’d bought two other books by Bach on the same shopping expedition, but had chosen the wrong one to read first and hadn’t gotten any further.

The subtitle of the book, which doesn’t appear on the cover, is “A Gypsy Pilot’s Adventures in Modern America.” It pretty much sums up the nonfiction story. I’m almost halfway finished and the story so far has been about Richard and two friends as they “barnstorm” around the midwest, attracting crowds with aerobatics and parachute jumps, making money by taking people for rides in their two airplanes. The book is no longer “modern” — unless you still live in the 1960s — and the idea of $3 airplane rides takes you back to those days. It certainly takes me back to those days: my first ride in an aircraft was in the late 1960s, when I got a helicopter ride in what was probably a Bell 47. That ride, which I took with my dad, cost only $5 per person.

Bach’s writing borders on amazing. Take, for example, the very first paragraph of the book:

The river was wine beneath our wings — dark royal June Wisconsin wine. It poured deep purple from one side of the valley to the other, and back again.The highway leaped across it once, twice, twice more, a daring shuttlecock weaving a thread of hard concrete.

I read that paragraph and suddenly felt ashamed to call myself a writer.

Fortunately, the whole book is not like that. It’s a story that moves forward, with brief interludes of wonderful imagery and flashbacks to other times in the author’s past.

I can identify with the story. I often make extra money with my helicopter by bringing it to county fairs and other outdoor events. He talks about the spectators who watch but don’t step up with their money. About how dead business can be until a passenger or two climb aboard and get the whole thing started. About flying for hours with a long line of people waiting. About waiting for hours with no one wanting to fly. He talks about trying to keep count of the passengers, about their reactions to seeing familiar terrain from an unfamiliar perspective. About the responsibility of the pilot and the joy of flight through someone else’s eyes.

It’s clear that Bach loves (or is it loved?) to fly. We have that in common.

I’m glad I pulled this book off the shelf on Wednesday. But now I’m wishing I could write its sequel, as a barnstorming helicopter pilot in the 21st century.

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