Full of Hot Air

A sound like Darth Vader breathing over my shoulder interrupts the early morning bird song. Dogs begin hysterically barking. A shadow dims the light from the rising sun.

I look up over my shoulder (I’m out in the yard picking cucumbers), and see the looming shape of a hot-air balloon drifting to the east of me. It’s striped in shades of red, yellow, and white, the colors vivid against the pale blue of the early morning sky.

As I watch, the balloon drifts smoothly to the south, periodically hissing.

Yes. Everything you’ve read about the silent movement of hot-air balloons is perfectly true. However, what these picturesque descriptions usually fail to mention is that the burners that heat the air make quite a bit of noise – the Darth Vader hiss and gasp that I mentioned above.

Another thing that fictional depictions of balloon flights often omit, especially these days when hot-air balloons are becoming set pieces in highly fashionable (but not necessarily well-thought out) steampunk, is how dependant on the vagaries of the wind hot-air balloons are. The burners mediate the balloon’s rise, but not in what direction the craft will travel. That is all up to wind currents.

From late summer through early autumn, I can pretty much count on hot-air balloons drifting right over my house. This is because Albuquerque experiences a wind pattern called “the Box.” If the winds cooperate, a skilled balloonist can arrange to be shunted around the four corners of the compass. This doesn’t mean they’ll land exactly where they took off, but the Box does create conditions that make Albuquerque a premier destination point for balloon enthusiasts.

I am no longer astonished to see a hot-air balloon, but I am still delighted. After a while, you come to recognize locals. Some companies use a variation on medieval heraldry: adorning their fleet with different patterns worked in the same colors. One of my favorites is a rainbow caught up in a swirl like a Turk’s Cap helmet or a soft ice cream cone.

Sometimes, if I’m lucky, I’ll glimpse a “special shape.” These are balloons elaborately constructed to resemble anything from a teddy bear to a dragon to a human figure, and pretty much anything else that can be filled with hot-air and expected to stay in balance when it rises.

One day, as Jim and I were out driving, we were treated to a full scale Cinderella’s castle drifting over Paseo del Norte. It hovered there for a long moment, framed by both sides of the six lane road. It’s a wonder there wasn’t a multi-car pile-up, because I’m sure we weren’t the only distracted drivers.

I hear dogs barking with that distinctive, frantic note that says the hissing, drifting aliens are passing overhead. I think I’ll wander out and take a look at who is hanging out in the sky.

6 Responses to “Full of Hot Air”

  1. Ann M Nalley Says:

    Oh, what an ego let down…. I thought this was about me….

    Anyway, poor attempt at humor aside, this was a beautiful and visual post. Being from a part of the country that does not attract hot air balloons, I can’t imagine what it would be like to see such wonders on a regular basis. The one time I was out west and got to see a hot air balloon display, it was amazing.

  2. Alan Robson Says:

    New Zealand has lots of unpredictable winds which makes ballooning an exciting pastime. Consequently there are often balloons to be seen in the skies; particularly in the tourist areas.

    Just north of Wellington (where Robin and I live) is a place called the Hutt Valley and every so often they have balloon galas. They are huge fun to watch, mainly because of the *very* odd balloons that you see floating across the skies. Jane – I was so pleased to see you commenting on the odd shaped balloons. I’ve seen cows and pigs (yes — pigs do fly!) and castles and dragons and an ENORMOUS Bugs Bunny complete with carrot. Great fun!

    I’m glad it happens in other places as well.


  3. janelindskold Says:

    Interestingly, Alan, we may have seen some of the same odd balloon. Albuquerque is home to one of the largest balloon fests in the world.

    It’s international and we get participants from all over the world.

    I’ve definitely seen flying pigs and that Bugs Bunny sounds Very Familiar.

    Oh! And I forgot to mention that this week is Bubonicon, our local SF/F convention. I know I’ll be seeing some of you there. I’m looking forward to it.

  4. janelindskold Says:

    And the picture came in late because Jim was not around for me to bother much of this week.

    Hope you enjoy!

  5. Paul Dellinger Says:

    Our little town used to have an annual balloon fest, consisting of maybe three hot-air balloons. One day, our usually-placid cat, Scrappy, was out on the back porch. I went out to bring him in. Just at that moment, one of those balloons eased into view over the roof behind us and let go with one of those Darth Vader whoofs. Only time Scrappy ever gave me a row of scratches.

  6. heteromeles Says:

    We get balloons over us too. The problem here is that we’re the landing zone. It used to be agricultural fields, now it’s fields of tract homes and fields of weeds around the houses. I love watching the balloons in the air, but having them land around here makes me very, very nervous.

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