In an earlier life, I flew hanggliders. There was a guy who was well known and well liked in the U.S. hang gliding community by the name of Michael Champlin. I never really knew him, aside from exchanging a couple of emails. But I was very involved in the mailing lists when I wasn't flying on weekends. He was more of a west coast pilot and I flew out of Wallaby Ranch in Florida. Still, when he died in a hanggliding accident, it hit everyone very hard. I wrote this right after it happened.
Elegy to Michael Champlin --June 1999
In Florida this whole past weekend rain
has fallen hard, like none that I've seen since . . .
I cannot quite recall when it has lain
this deeply puddled, this wildly wet . . . both hints
that something else is in the air . . . something . . .
The sky descended on Thursday last and clouds,
gray mournful scudding clouds came covering
the normal blues and puffy whites. Grey shrouds
hung low and draped the earth. They hung so low
and waited so long that I began to think,
"It'll fog us in and we'll have to burrow
to work, our sight gone short as dark mists sink."
Yet morning came with heavy clouds still high;
not quiet though. They churned with great upset
and instinct told what this might signify:
a world with shocking grief had been beset.
The roiling sky could hold it in no more
and let loose with torrents of wet sadness;
sobs drenching all the world while lightning seared
the sky with grief, the air gone nearly mad,
and formerly still waters blinked and teared.
Cats and dogs carried buckets to douse the flames
of electricity burning the clouds apart.
And rain fell . . . and fell . . . for nothing tames
the grief of sky and cloud when one departs
who played among them well and long
and shared their joy at being there . . .
up there . . . where winds and mists become a song
and elements become dear friends. For those who dare
reach up, embrace the sky, and hold it close
are given far far more than they ever risked.
I saw all the atmosphere join those
who know how much our pilot friend is missed.