I made a quick coffee run one fine morning and on the ride home, I was so startled by an apparition directly overhead that I nearly spilled my mocha latte. A huge hot air balloon floated above the road. The colorful inflatable seemed to be moving slowly enough that I could follow it, so I began chase. It hovered just ahead of my car on Route 254 as I trailed behind, then sped up and looked up — a risky combination. It took a turn to the right. I raced to the next road and turned to the right, still speeding up and looking up. When I nearly swerved to avoid a fence post that suddenly presented itself in my path, I decided to pull over and get out. I spied the balloon just before it disappeared behind the range of forest.
Disappointed, I drove home and walked to my mailbox. A flash of unexpected color at the top of the rise grabbed my attention. I snatched my camera and ran up the hill. This incline is so steep that bicyclists struggle with it and I’ve never gotten all the way up without serious huffing and puffing. I spied my target passing overhead at the farm atop the ridge, then it vanished again. Without considering that it was trespassing, I ran across my neighbor’s property, stumbling as I left smooth lawn and reached rough, chuckhole meadow. What a magnificent view — that must be the city of Waterbury — and there it was! I took one faraway and too-dark photo as it drifted soundlessly out of sight.
I eventually tracked down the origin of this beauty — Aer Blarney Balloons located in Bethlehem, Connecticut just a few miles away. Begorra — an Irish balloon airline practically in our neighborhood! Its website says “You’ll float majestically above the Litchfield Hills with an incredible birds-eye view unlike anything you’ve seen before.” I wondered if the balloon occupants were looking down and thinking that their birds-eye view included watching my wild chase.
This wasn’t my first encounter with a circus-striped airship, however. I was actually inside the basket of a hot air balloon once in Florida. The occasion was my friend’s wedding. She wanted to do Something Completely Different. At the time I was a Notary Public and had already performed several weddings in Florida (where Notaries are the equivalent of a Connecticut Justice of the Peace). She asked me to do the ceremony with just the four of us floating about 20 feet above the heads of the wedding guests.
The wedding was held in an out-of-the-way destination location so the majority of guests had spent the night pre-celebrating, then retired in the wee hours to a hotel room. Due to the pre-celebrating in the hotel pub, I hadn’t fully comprehended that hot air balloons were best piloted at dawn or dusk, when wind currents are the calmest. A persistent knock at our hotel door reminded me that I needed to be ready to rise and shine with the bridal couple at daybreak. I rose, but refused to shine until the sun did first.
The balloon was tethered to the ground, and immediately following the official ceremony, it drifted downward, deposited me on terra firma and then ascended with the newlyweds. My first thought was gratitude for ground, and then I imagined what a grand adventure to begin a new life. Maybe I’ll take a ride in one of those Irish balloons someday.