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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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From My Window

Issue Date: July 22, 2021

Balloon Magic

By Jane Thibodeau Martin,



**********

Wausau hosted a â€Taste and Balloon Glow†recently. It featured samples of food from Wausau area restaurants and hot air balloons, both in flight and lit up in the evening. The evening lighting, which is spectacular, is the â€balloon glow.†On a weekend packed with fun local options we elected to spend time at â€Chalkfest†instead, but we have attended balloon festivals in the past and greatly enjoyed them.

The huge hot air balloons are fascinating to me. The first record of a balloon flight is from 1783 and involved test pilot animals. Now they are mainly used by hobbyists; for taking members of the public for a ride for a fee; and as commercial advertising vehicles.

While we did not visit the festival grounds, I saw balloons in the sky at sunrise and sunset (typical flying hours due to generally lower winds) at several points during the weekend near the animal shelter where I volunteer. I always halt and watch for a few minutes when I do see one. They are such a striking sight, moving so slowly and deliberately, and so silently.

I was curious how much a hot air balloon costs. New balloons of the size you see at the festivals range from $20,000 to $80,000, but used ones can be had for around $15,000 according to a source I looked at. You need a â€ground crew†of people to help manage the balloon, and a trailer or flatbed truck to transport the deflated balloon and the attached basket the people and fuel source ride in during flight.

Balloons use propane to super-heat the air needed to lift the balloon, and an average flight takes 20-30 gallons of propane. You need a license to operate a balloon (requiring the mastering of applicable rules and safety procedures,) plus insurance. That can run from $1500 to $20,000 annually, depending on if you ever provide rides for a fee. And an annual balloon inspection from an authorized inspector is required, which is about $1,000. In short, it can be a pretty costly hobby. (Now you know why balloon rides are so expensive!)

Since balloons can't be â€sailed†against the wind, once they launch, the chase crew in vehicles for each balloon must follow its flight with the prevailing wind across the countryside until the pilot selects a safe landing spot.

I have always been interested in airplanes but balloons hold a second fascination for me. A hot air balloon is a prominent feature in the original movie, â€The Wizard of Oz.†There weren't lots of quality movies for kids when I was little, so Oz became an annual tradition at our house when it ran on TV. When I was small, I left the room and closed the door behind me because I was so terrified of the flying monkey scene. And my heart broke every time when Dorothy misses her chance to fly home to Kansas, because her little dog jumps out of the balloon basket and runs away just before the balloon makes its irreversible lift off. Even then I knew that no matter how badly I wanted to go home, I too would follow my beloved dog in that situation.

Sunday morning of the balloon festival weekend I drove to the animal shelter at dawn for cat duty. As I crested a big hill by the shelter I saw several balloons aloft on the still morning air, but one was very low, apparently landing, and appeared to be right next to the shelter. My luck and my timing were perfect, and for the first time I got to watch as the skilled pilot and his or her ground crew landed the balloon and secured it †gently and with no drama or yelling at all. I know it is not anywhere near as easy as they made it look. I watched for a while and then started my litter pan cleaning and kennel scrubbing.

As I did, my mind wandered to the wizard movie with my adult perspective. Dorothy is a lost, desperate little girl trying to get home, and the Wizard cruelly sends her on a fool's errand, likely to get her killed, to collect the broomstick of the Wicked Witch of the West before he will help her. This despite his claimed great powers. She bravely retrieves the broomstick, with the help of her friends, and a lot of luck.

When she returns with the broomstick to claim her reward, Oz dithers and then cruelly sends her away without keeping his promise. As he does so, the little dog pulls back a curtain and the truth is revealed. The Wizard is a lying fake †far from an all-powerful wizard and benevolent ruler of Munchkin Land; he's just an ordinary man with a twisted character and no morals.

And little Dorothy speaks truth to power. â€You are a bad man!†A massive understatement of epic proportions, I am sure my own language would be a lot spicer after what he had done to my friends and I.

Not sure I'd willingly get in a balloon basket with that horrible man, now that I knew how wicked he was, no matter how desperately I wanted to get to Kansas.

It is all reminiscent of the fairy tale of the Emperor who had no clothes. In that story the Emperor is conned by a â€tailor†who claims he can make amazing clothes that only worthy people can see. The Emperor is totally taken in by the lying tailor, and commissions several expensive and lavish outfits. All his court members claim to be able to see the luxurious clothing, because they don't want to admit they can't. The emperor proudly goes out and parades down the village streets to show the commoners his beautiful clothing, but a small child blurts out the truth. â€The emperor has no clothes!†It takes a child to admit what everyone else could see all along †the emperor is naked and has been taken in by a conman.

If you too, find balloons inspire flights of fantasy and fairy tales, or would like to find out if they do; you have a chance in August in Green Bay. On Aug. 21st there will be a balloon glow at Leicht Memorial Park (check before you travel to be sure nothing has changed.) Maybe you, too, will have thought-provoking reflections afterwardsâ€.if not, you will still see an unusual and amazing sight.

You can reach me for commentary, alternative viewpoints, or ideas at this e-mail address: JanieTMartin@gmail.com.


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