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Today is December 6, 2022

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Want to really soar? Don’t let fears ground you

Want to really soar? Don’t let fears ground you

A hot air balloon chases the moon at the Grenada balloon festival a few weeks ago. Of course, the balloon never gets to the moon.
But it comes a lot closer to it than people who never leave the ground. The Natchez Balloon Festival is Oct. 18-20. Photo: Walt Grayson

    A friend of mine wrote a song years ago called, “Afraid to Fly.” The gist of it is you’ll never get anywhere in life (literally or figuratively) if you’re afraid to fly.
    It was a dirge to his lack of musical success because his fear of airplanes kept him at home.
    I thought about that song the other day in Grenada. I was watching first-time fliers getting ready to go up in hot air balloons. That reminded me of my first balloon ride in Canton one Fourth of July weekend many years ago.
    Larry Torgerson was my pilot. I was more than nervous as I climbed into the basket. It seemed to me that the top edge of it only came up to about my knees. Actually it was more like waist-high. But I still thought it would be easy to fall out. The balloon was tugging at the ropes, ready to go. Larry gave the word, the ground crew let loose and off we went.
    I was rolling videotape all the way up. So all I was seeing was what was in my viewfinder. That’s about like watching it on TV. When we got up to around 800 feet and everything started looking the same, I glanced up for real. And I quickly closed one eye and started looking back through the camera again!
    I’m sure Larry had given many, many people their first balloon ride and I suppose he sensed my fear.
    “Walt,” he said. “Don’t worry about being up this high. If the human body falls over about 50 or 75 feet you’re gonna die anyway. Just the higher up you are the more time you have to think about it on the way down. So just relax and enjoy the ride.”
    Somehow, I wasn’t comforted.
    But I did set the camera aside and I did enjoy the ride. And a ride in a hot air balloon is like no other kind of flying. From a commercial jetliner you can usually see nothing. A helicopter is a lot of fun. I’ve been up in our news helicopter at WLBT many times. You get close enough to see stuff in a helicopter.
    But from a hot air balloon you can shout at people on the ground and they can holler back up at you, and you can see 360 degrees around you. And a balloon ride is amazingly quiet and still. Since you are traveling at the same speed as the air, there is no breeze as you stand in the basket until you start to either rise or descend.
    There are birds down below you. And both of you are flying!
    Of course, birds have control over what direction they are going. You don’t. A hot air balloon is completely at the mercy of the winds. Whichever way the winds blow, that’s the way you go.
    That’s one reason I like to watch balloons fly. They paint the normally invisibly air currents overhead with color, following the same rhythmic movements as the atmosphere.
    I was at Grenada a few weeks ago as first-time fliers climbed into the wicker baskets below their balloons, nervously giggling, fidgety, not knowing what to hold on to. Questioning why in the world they had decided to fly in a hot air balloon to begin with.
    Logic tells you that if you want to live you’ll stay out of that thing on the ground. But then your spirit whispers, if you really want to live, climb in! Because to really get somewhere, you can’t be afraid to fly!

   Walt Grayson is the host of “Mississippi Roads” on Mississippi Public Broadcasting television, and the author of two “Looking Around Mississippi” books and “Oh! That Reminds Me: More Mississippi Homegrown Stories.” Contact Grayson at

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