A sense of motion from within

Jul 14, 2017 By Robert H. Peck

I'm away from Wyoming for the whole summer for the first time in my life. There are some good things about that.

It means I'm gainfully employed and liking it enough not to quit. It means I'm seeing new parts of the world. It means I'm about to appreciate the lack of humidity all the more when I do eventually make it home for a few days in August.

But there's a downside, too, and the biggest part of it for me is missing the balloon rally this weekend.

We know that the balloon rally is impressive. I won't bore you with details about my childhood, memories of the giant, colorful structures as tall as buildings unfurling themselves around me, covering my ears as the pilots blasted fire into them using modern technology to replicate a centuries-old technique that allowed man to fly. The smell of wet grass, the grogginess of rising early, the scratchy sweatshirt your mom stuffs onto you the one time that year you'll ever wear it just as you're running for the door. Pretty much to a man, Fremont County residents have been there.

So instead of reminiscing, let's appreciate this event for what it is, and becomes more of with each passing year: a largely unique community event that sets our towns apart from thousands of others like them around the country. Our balloon rally is the real deal, as the consistent attendance of celebrity balloonists shows, and it's a point of pride for us as we describe summer in Wyoming to outsiders.

I used it just the other day, and it impressed the listener. A stranger, hearing about our community, was impressed. Some cities of millions can't make that claim, and it probably means we are doing something right. That gives us some moral ground to stand on as we watch and take pride in our balloons.

And we make it happen. Local businesses sponsor pilots and host the guests. The city government supports the rally, and citizens turn out to make it fun many years running. It is a good thing that the balloonists come to our city, and we can be even happier about it because we know that this is an event we work together to bring back to life July after July. We earn this pride.

Never been? The rally is fun, possibly even the most fun, if you go up in the morning but don't actually fly yourself. The pinnacle of the whole event is watching the balloons begin to inflate, turning a big bare lawn into a circus of light and noise. Families shout to each other over the sounds of fans and fire. It seems almost medieval for a time, dream-like. This is the reason to go to the balloon rally, to see and feel those things, whether you fly or not, or like getting up or not, or have a more practical reason to be there or not.

But if you do have the chance to fly, it's a feeling you won't soon forget. Flight in a hot-air balloon alternates between piercing noise and excitement--when the balloon lifts off in a burst of fire from the pilot and drifts, faster than you expected, away above the college buildings into the blue morning sky--and absolute silence.

The world maps out below, and but for gentle movement you might be standing still in the calm, brisk air, floating above the same spot you were in when you took off.

The sense of motion, in these quiet moments, comes from within rather than without, a subdued combination of peace and excitement achieved only when human beings discover they can fly.

Go to the rally if you know what's good for you. This is one of our last, best true local traditions, and it's a great one. I can't make it this year, so you can have my spot. Get a pancake, wear a jacket in the summer, and watch the colors unfold this weekend.

Editor's note: Riverton native Robert H. Peck is a graduate student in the Iowa Writers Workshop at the University of Iowa.

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