By this time (about 1 pm CDT on May 21) eighty-five years ago, Charles A. Lindbergh was just a few hours away from landing in Paris on his historic nonstop, solo flight across the Atlantic. He had been airborne (and awake) for more than 30 hours, and he had finally caught sight of land–the southwestern tip of Ireland–for the first time since passing over Newfoundland and out over the open ocean.
In The Spirit of St. Louis (1953), Lindbergh writes about flying over a little Irish village in nearly ecstatic terms.
People are running out into the streets, looking up and waving. This is earth again, the earth where I’ve lived and now will live once more. Here are human beings. Here’s a human welcome. Not a single detail is wrong. I’ve never seen such beauty before–fields so green, people so human, a village so attractive, mountains and rocks so mountainous and rocklike. . . . I haven’t been far enough away to know the earth before. For twenty-five years I’ve lived on it, and yet not seen it till this moment. . . . During my entire life I’ve accepted these gifts of God to man, and not known what was mine until this moment. It’s like rain after drought; spring after a northern winter. I’ve been to eternity and back. I know how the dead would feel to live again.
There’s a wonderful new anthology of American writing on aviation and spaceflight called Into the Blue, compiled and edited by my old friend (and former exhibit collaborator and co-author) Joe Corn. It’s part of the distinguished Library of America series and was published last October. Read an interview with Joe Corn about the book here.
It’s a splendid and often surprising collection, with passages from the famous and the obscure, the expected and the unexpected. In the latter category one might put Gertrude Stein, whose Everybody’s Autobiography is excerpted here with a typically quirky passage about her first flight (in 1934, back in the United States on a lecture tour). Other impressions of flight are offered by Ernest Hemingway, Harry Crosby, Amelia Earhart, Ralph Ellison, John Dos Passos, Samuel Hynes, and — of course– Tom Wolfe, from The Right Stuff.
Both of the Lindberghs, Charles and Anne, are included in the volume. Anne Morrow Lindbergh is represented by a concluding passage “Flying Again,” from her landmark bestseller North to the Orient (1935), about her and Charles’ flights on the “great circle route” in 1931. The selection from The Spirit of St. Louis is from Part II of the book, in the chapter recreating the 25th hour of his 33-hour flight from New York to Paris in 1927. He has just seen a porpoise in the ocean below — the first living thing he had seen since flying over Newfoundland hours earlier– and writes:
The ocean is as desolate as ever. Yet a complete change has taken place. I feel that I’ve safely recrossed the bridge to life–broken the strands which have been tugging me toward the universe beyond. Why do I find such joy, such encouragement in the sight of a porpoise . . . . This ocean, which for me marks the borderland of death, is filled with life; life that’s foreign, yet in some strange way akin; life which welcomes me back from the universe of spirits and makes me part of the earth again.