Stairway leading up to an open door showing clouds and blue skiesLast Friday morning I flew the Cirrus to Charlottesville, VA to visit a buddy of mine, John Hart. John is an excellent friend and great writer who’s had four books on the New York Times Bestseller List including his latest, Iron House. The only writer to ever win two consecutive Edgar Awards for best novel, John is a great guy who deserves his success.

I took John flying over farmland he’d recently purchased so he could get a bird’s eye view. His good friend and new neighbor, Neal, joined us. Neal, a developer in the Charlottesville area, is a great guy in his own right. His land is adjacent to John’s and they both enjoyed seeing their acreage from the air. It’s always intriguing for me to watch “aha moments” as people see something from a different perspective.

After a smooth flight we touched down to knock around Charlottesville for the day. Neal headed off to a business meeting while John and I hit Keswick Hall for bloody marys on the deck that overlooks the hotel’s stunning golf course. Later we regrouped with Neal at the Downtown Pedestrian Mall, a bricked-in area on the city’s early Main Street. Strolling to lunch, we passed John Grisham eating at an outside table within a stone’s throw of the writing office he has above the mall. Once we finished lunch, Neal ran off to make his next deal but promised to meet us for dinner.

John and I spent the afternoon exploring his future farm. We covered a good portion of the hundred-plus acres, zipping through wooded trails on a John Deere Gator. Stopping at various landmarks we’d seen from the air, we walked as John explained his plans for them. On one trail, a deep blue glint caught my eye. I reached down through a layer of fall leaves and pulled an old Bromo Seltzer bottle from the earth. Best guess is it’s close to ninety-years-old as its smooth mouth hints of a cork rather than the screw metal top the glass bottles had before the company switched to plastic in the sixties.

We capped the day off at C&O Restaurant, arriving early to snag a coveted corner table next to the bar in the bistro while we waited for Neal. Once a bunkhouse for early railroad workers, the restaurant now hums with the voices of locals and tourists alike. Try the tenderloin if you go. The hostess, Elaine, who has worked there over thirty years, graced us with good cheer and stories of the restaurant including a tale of the previous bartender, another thirty-plus year veteran of the restaurant who now travels the world on his sailboat. When I ordered the house cabernet from the server, Elaine brought the bottle herself to show the label she knew I’d appreciate: a stylized red aircraft banking over mountains. I’d just been introduced to R8, my favorite new table wine.

Chris Laney and John Hart

Before leaving the next morning, I realized my sunglasses had fallen from my collar at some point during our trek through the woods. We jumped on the Gator and whisked back through the trails until we emerged into the cleared pasture near the knoll where John’s house will ultimately sit. Two deer stood in stark attention on the slope, watching us. Mist from the river below hovered in the treetops to diffuse light from an early morning sun. I knew then that losing the sunglasses was a small price for the image before us. When we found them within the next five minutes, I marked the memory, and find, as pure gifts.

Two hours later I lifted off in calm winds under overcast clouds at 4500 feet, plenty of room to clear the mountains while maintaining visual flight. Within fifteen minutes, the clouds thinned to wisps, then dissipated. With blue above me and fall’s rich colors rolling below, one of those rare moments unfolded, that sweeping feeling of universal perfection I’ve written about before. I held onto it for as long as possible until it evaporated as air traffic control broke the silence to contact some unseen aircraft that shared space with me in a vast sky.

After touchdown, I drove home to hug my kids and kiss my wife before we sat down to lunch. But along the way home, I thought of all the wonderful things flight has brought me. At the same time I remembered how learning to fly had only been a dream a little over ten years ago, one that sometimes pushed its way into my consciousness for brief periods until I pushed back because life was too busy. But the desire kept surfacing until I ultimately realized that a dream without action eventually becomes nothing but regret. I’m sure John would agree with me. His road to success started with a dream. But action made the dream reality.

Act on your dreams.

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