Another Glistening Chance

Written By: Denise  McCauley

We held our breath, carefully listening and looking around the plane with stunned stares. It was a moment before reality kicked in; there was no defined time. We were still in the same, sunny, September day as before, but like a dream, time had slowed to a stop and stayed fixed there. The quiet was vast and we slowly exhaled but remained silent.

The pilot looked over with a combination of surprise and confusion. There was a stream of blood pouring from his forehead under his glasses and into his left eye. He didn’t seem to notice. I turned behind me to check on Roberta. She was sitting quietly, and appeared unharmed.

We were each privately assessing and absorbing the events of the last few minutes. It was so unlike what one might expect. There was no panic, no cries of fear. Instead, a measured peacefulness settled around us. The fearful moments had passed, it was after the fact, and we had survived.

Leaving East Hampton airport on a Sunday afternoon in September 2013, the hazy summer air was finally clearing. Long, hard edged shadows stretched out across the landscape, casting stark patterns on the fields below. We’d been flying low, watching clouds move over the remaining East End farms, admiring the beautiful place we lived in. The bays, the ponds, the ocean, and the creeks all glistened and gave light back to the sky.

We were headed to a small airstrip on Shelter Island to land on its grass runway. Touching down on the grass, it was slick, and we skidded and bumped and bounced our way down the slope, veering left and back right, with the trees at the end getting closer and closer. And then it was clear we would not be able to stop. We were headed straight, nose first, into the woods. There was no time, even for a prayer, before suddenly, the nose of the plane abruptly picked up, its angle just missing the treetops, and we were airborne again. Lifting quickly we were headed up, sighs of relief, nothing but blue skies. With the sun in our faces and the sky opening up before us, we rose, headed home. The upward rise changed as there was an awful crunching, scratching sound. The landing gear had caught the tallest treetops and they brought us back down.

We crashed into a swamp, our small plane wrecked, half submerged and smoking. The pilot had been skilled in bringing us down into the soft mucky grasses and reeds. He guided the plane so we survived. We were all fine, but the plane was smoking, and we were somewhere in the middle of a swamp.

The passenger door was working and I sat on the edge and eased my way into the swamp. Holding tightly to the wing, anxious to find bottom, I stepped into the swamp, relieved to find it only reached my thighs. The muck quickly sucked my shoes off and I felt the slimy mud between my toes. The walk out of the swamp was slow, mosquitoes and dragonflies hovering. We three held hands and made our way out, finally falling onto the grassy field. Mud covered and shaken, we watched to see help rushing down the runway.

That night, I went to a party. When asked how my day went, I remarked that sometimes we just need to give thanks. To live in this beautiful place where the water glistens and lights the sky. Where we are given so much and rarely pause to see it. And how you never really know when your chance is up.