Posted February 22, 2022 – Narrated by Carmen
Jim wanted balloons.
As if anything can embellish an idyllic New Mexico sky, every year on Jim’s birthday week, hundreds of hot-air balloons punctuate the stunning Albuquerque landscape.
In 2020 we had loose plans to attend the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, but the pandemic grounded the event for the first time since it began in 1972, Jim’s High School graduation year.
Time Flies, the official theme for 2021, peaked Jim’s enthusiasm. He would celebrate his 67th birthday at Fiesta regardless of travel hurdles and reservation complications and the risk of infection as the new variant released its latest offspring into the population. But the major hurdle, was me.
It’s unusual for Jim to latch onto something he knows I won’t attend. I don’t do big events. It has nothing to do with Covid. Ever since Mary Decker fell at the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympics, right in front of us, and the crowd erupted into a frenzied mob, I haven’t been able to shake the fear of being trampled.
But if my man wants balloons, balloons he will have.
He was overdue for a break from my hang-up. And, this last year took a heavy emotional toll with the loss of his dear sister Patty, and brother-in-law, Richard, as well as many old friends.
He needed this.
Unfortunately, he didn’t win the lottery.
The lottery for Fiesta begins by applying in January. If you want to park your Airstream on the lot between The Field where they launch the balloons and The Anderson Abruzzo International Balloon Museum (the best seats in “the house”) you must be a part of the The Balloon Fiesta National Airstream Rally.
The lottery is designed to fairly manage the high number of applicants for a few available spaces (Kenneth does an amazing job organizing and running this Airstream rally). Unfortunately, chances of getting into the winner’s club on the first try is like winning The Lottery, or being struck by lightening.
But this was Jim’s year. Undeterred by pie-in-the-sky odds, he submitted the application and immediately began working on Plan Deux. Every day he shook the internet trees for tips about available spaces. Months went by with no leads.
Then, one day, a miraculous wind stirred the branches of Facebook and a glimmer of hope landed in Jim’s message box. Nan Leverett from Airstream Addicts forwarded a post from Albuquerque residents, Marcia and Jim. The couple were offering the community a free space (with hook-ups!) on their property near the Fiesta.
The “firsts” were adding up. First Fiesta, first time in Albuquerque, first big crowd event, and first time yard surfing in a complete stranger’s yard.
Jim reached out. These were nice people. Did they mind if a feral chihuahua and a woman with a crowd-fear thingie hung out in their yard for five days while Jim attended Fiesta?
Spoiler: the story ends well.
We made wonderful new Airstream friends …
We hung out with fabulous old Airstream friends …
and Pico didn’t bite any of our friends, old or new (another first!).
We fell for Albuquerque …
Jim got his balloons, and so did I!
Early one morning, in Marcia and Jim’s backyard, I was dreaming of fire-spewing dragons and woke wide-eyed to see a Fiesta fly-by from my skylight!
A balloon blessing. It was meant to be.
A single balloon is a statement, but a flotilla of balloons is a universal message.
The world’s most powerful language is composed of nothing but zeros and ones. Similarly, hot-air balloons (depending on one’s perspective) look like a period or an exclamation mark.
This sky language when expressed in multitudes is especially moving, a declaration of sorts, The Secret of Everything, suspended in time and space under the New Mexico sun.
Soaring baskets filled with unhelmeted souls pilot across the heavens, looking down and bearing witness to the utter insignificance of our earthly toils and possessions.
At Fiesta, primeval tech eclipses the spectacle of rocket launches. Subverting science, politics and religion, hot-air balloons go their whimsical and jolly way, scooping up armloads of believers.
They elegantly skirt the evanescent boundaries between heaven and earth, inoculating us from the plagues of negativity, sadness and cynicism.
Without sermonizing or taking sides, hot-air balloons address the question, “What is important right now, and what is mere distraction?” and the answers seem to flow out of the silence and into your heart.
Atmosphere is important.
As I grieve loved ones who have transitioned, I often look to the clouds for something – connection, comfort, distraction, memories, answers, all of the above – even my heart presses gently against my chest, ready and willing to go aloft.
“Heaven knows” Mama sighed when I asked too many questions about death and the afterlife. My heart seems to know that’s not just something people say.
Fiesta was a healing time.
Every day Jim came home with inspiring images.
As we journey wholeheartedly into old age, our elevated years bring the horizon into clearer focus. As youths we longed for all the wonderful things – things both within and beyond our grasp – exposing us to anxiety, pessimism and chaos.
It wasn’t all bad. Some things you take on bring you down to earth in a good way, other things just weigh you down. Everything has strings attached and the biggest stuff demands chains.
One day we realized our acquisitions were a burden on our time and long-term travel plans, so we began to lighten up. That felt good, real good, so we kept tossing ballast until we felt as light as goose down.
At first it was wobbly and a bit scary. Six years later, it’s still wobbly and a bit scary, but not as horrifying as never achieving lift.
The flotilla of gorgeous, voluminous and sumptuous contraptions parading overhead inspired us to renew our vows to continue this simple life of living in Beauty.
If you want to see our exact route, click here.
*photos in this post (unless otherwise noted) were taken and copyrighted by Living In Beauty.