Treasure Map — A Graphic Representation of a Place in the Heart

By Dave Matheny, EAA 184186

story appeared in the February 2019 issue of
Sport Aviation

“A map is
not the territory it represents,” Alfred Korzybski wrote in a scholarly paper
in 1931. He has been quoted ever since by philosophers and generals because it
makes a lot of sense and reminds us about the value of — or serves as a
cautionary word about — the importance of reality over theory.

What we
might call Korzybski’s law would apply even more when the map is not so much an
accurate representation of geographic reality, but of a place in the heart. This
map is a representation of both the field that I flew out of for more than 30
years and of all of the small, grass-strip fields that so many of us fly from —
a representation of most of the innumerable small airports to be found all over
North America. They are home to ultralights, “fat” ultralights, light-sport
aircraft, light aircraft of all sorts, and even some stock Cessnas and Pipers. “Home”
is the important word because that’s where our treasure lies.

I could go
to Google Earth and get an exact representation of my old field and try to draw
it by locating the features depicted here precisely, but that would get us into
the thing that Korzybski was driving at. What we really care about is the
place, in general, and the things that have happened there throughout the
years. It’s a collection of memories, not a collection of physical features.

Mysterious Disappearance

There’s the
place where my flying buddy Phil was giving a ride to a young woman he was
trying to impress. Just after takeoff, his left main wheel fell clear of the
airplane, a two-seat Quicksilver Sprint. As several of us watched, it bounced a
couple of times and came to rest in the weeds. Somehow, as he passed over us,
the several of us on the ground communicated to Phil, with much waving and
pointing, that his left main was missing. When he finally caught what we were
signaling, he swung around and looked, and you could see his double-take from
the ground. He flew around a bit and then made a masterful landing, keeping the
left side up until it finally dug in, causing a very minor, gentle ground loop.
The wheel has never been found, even though we conducted several searches — so
it amounts to buried treasure. (And yes, the young lady was very impressed.)

There’s also
a patch of ground scattered with tall trees off to the east where we would go
at a low level, twining among the trees just at sunset, each trying to get on
the others’ tail so we could bring our imaginary .50-caliber and 20 mm guns
into play. This was not a safe way to fly, and I only mention it because I miss
it. The grove of trees has since become a parking lot.

The “junked
cars and hovercraft training area” long ago reverted to plain old abandoned
cars. We only had one hovercraft that somebody dropped off, kind of like a baby
being left at the front stoop of a rich family’s home. They must have thought
we were the only collection of oddballs in the region who could use it. And we
could! Or, a few of us could at least, until it developed engine problems.
After a while, it too mysteriously disappeared. But in the meantime, I
discovered how easy it was to — whatever the verb is — to fly, drive, hover, or
skim. Fun, in any case. No brakes, so you really have to anticipate what’s
coming — but then, the same applies to boats and aircraft.

Common Ground

A lot of features apply to most fields. Most have a north-south runway, typically with long, narrow mud puddles after a rain. Many also have a sketchy attempt at a cross runway, not well defined and so short you couldn’t get anything in there but one of those Valdez STOL taildraggers with gigantic tires that put on such an amazing show at the Fun Fly Zone at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh every year.

Like most
fields that have been around for a number of years, there will be a tree that
somebody tangled with. I call the person an “idiot” because, in this case, he
was one. He hadn’t flown anything before — circled once or twice, riding it
wherever it wanted to go, which was into that tree. He climbed down laughing.
The owner of the ultralight, an American Aerolights Eagle, also thought the
whole thing was hilarious. Fortunately, they went away and never came back.

Of course,
there’s a fire pit. Pretty much any field will have a big hangar and one or
more little ones.

And, my
favorite, there’s often an ancient tractor that once upon a time could cut
grass but is now spending its twilight years brooding over a thicket of weeds. Every
summer the weeds threaten to hide it completely.

Buried Treasure

The field was
created in 1982 by Boris Popov, the founder of BRS. Ultralights were roaring at
the time, and all these new pilots needed a more reliable place to fly from
than some guy’s field. The big hangar went up right away. I moved in
immediately, bringing with me the first of what would turn out to be eight or
nine aircraft that I would own over the next 30 years.

For reasons
not relevant to this story, the landowners were unable to sell the property for
most of 30 years, so we pilots enjoyed the field for far, far longer than I
ever expected. But, it did not require psychic powers to see the future for the
field, or so I thought. The surrounding farm fields were gradually sprouting
big houses everywhere. Our tendency to do most of our flying in the
neighborhood, constantly inflicting the whine of two-cycle engines on the
ever-growing number of residents, would inevitably cause strife. In time, I was
sure, they would realize they had the political clout to get us shut down. I
was wrong. The neighbors rarely complained, although there was an ugly incident
in the early days with a neighbor who actually had his hands around the throat
of the head of our flying club. What killed us was just that the landlord was
slowly selling off the land piecemeal. You can put up with being crowded, but
there’s nothing you can do when half of a runway disappears because a new road
is going through or a house is being built on it. Those are mortal wounds. I
moved out about three years ago and went to Red Wing Regional Airport (RGK).

The Prodigal

So, it was
goodbye to an old friend, a place that was home to my flying for all of those
years — minus a couple of absences when I got into GA and expanded my dreams at
various local established airports. But I came back, like the prodigal son. Although,
strictly speaking, he only came back once; he didn’t keep coming and going,
which might have worn out his welcome. Mine never wore out. I loved that place.

The land and
the runways never changed. The buildings never did, either. Far from taking the
place for granted, I expected every year to hear that we were losing the field.
Now that it’s gone, it doesn’t seem to hurt as much as I thought it would. The
keenest stab of regret came when poking around various views of the place on
Google Earth and I saw what I used to see just as I took off to the south from
the big runway, a last glimpse of the hangar and then blue sky as I pulled the
nose up and banked away in a familiar long, climbing turn, away and away.

Be it ever
so humble, there’s no place like home.

Dave Matheny, EAA
184186, is a private pilot and an FAA ground instructor. He has been flying
light aircraft, including ultralights, for 34 years. He can be reached at For more
from Dave, check out Light Flight every month in EAA Sport Aviation.

Post Comments