Harmony

I remember my daughters’ hair when they were very young, the soft, fair silk that seemed to gather and radiate light.  I could not get their little barrette to stay in place; it would quickly slip along the fine, smooth strands as they bounced merrily away and soon be on the floor.
I remember this because our beautiful passenger this morning has no hair or, rather, has a scalp of short, stiff stubble where soft blonde hair used to be.  Her scalp looks like a wheat field looks after the gleaming yellow crop has been cut and carried off.   Though it produced rich, golden life, the prickly surface that remains seems hurt and embarrassed by the loss.

Harmony is two years old.  Not long ago, she bounced along through the sweet, simple life of a toddler, cherished by her parents and guarded by five big brothers.  Her one sister, several years older, had long prayed that God would bring another girl into the family.  Finally, He did and in this little kingdom Harmony is the princess.

It was March, in the normal, noisy din of life when things changed.  Nine people sat down to dinner and were talking and joking about their day when Jenny noticed a small bump on her daughter’s face.  Nothing serious, she thought, but it was a Wednesday night and the family was on their way to church, so Jenny asked the Pastor’s wife to look.  There was something strange about the bump, and soon Jenny was at the pediatrician’s office.  He thought, at first, that it might be an infection but it did not respond to treatment and, within a few days, Ken and Jenny and their princess began the long drive to the children’s hospital in Grand Rapids.

There, doctors perform a needle biopsy on the bump and the results are not good.  After two more procedures to confirm the diagnosis, doctors tell Ken and Jenny that their daughter has a particularly virulent form of cancer.  The little bump is a tumor, just one eruption of a quiet biological explosion that is tearing through Harmony’s little body in slow motion, devouring as it spreads.

The grace – and it is hard to use that word here – the grace is that the tumor appeared.  More often with Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, the evidence of the attack is hidden away inside the child’s body until the time to react has passed.  In Harmony’s case, the appearance of that evil bump set off a medical war that, by God’s grace, may still be won.

And here we come into the story, Patrick and I; just two more pilots to provide one more flight in a long series of flights.  We drop in over the hills that guard the airport to the north and west and Ken meets us on the ramp.  He is friendly but I get the sense that he is inspecting us and our machine, measuring our fitness to carry his precious cargo.  Apparently we pass the test and we are soon in the FBO, meeting Harmony’s family and friends.

Jenny is friendly and appreciative, but neither she nor Harmony look forward to the ride.  Jenny will be sick for a couple of days, a victim of motion sickness.  Harmony will be sick for three weeks, a victim of the vile chemicals that she receives on each trip to Grand Rapids, chemicals that hurt the cancer just a bit more than they hurt her.  When she finally feels better, an airplane arrives to take her to the hospital, and she goes through it all again.

Still, she has a shy smile for us, the little girl in the floppy hat, and it is not hard to see why they call her Princess.  Soon, she is curled up in the airplane’s worn seat, sleeping through the dull roar of another airplane ride because, I suppose, Mommy says so.  It’s all she knows, Jenny says of this strange monthly routine: the taxi rides through big-city streets, the strange smells and long hospital halls, the terrible nausea and the droning airplanes.  We do not much relieve her suffering, or Jenny’s.  We just allow them to compress it into a single, difficult day, allow them to do more of their suffering together, as a family, at home.

Soon, the airplane is settling onto Grand Rapids’ Two-Six Right.  We have a few minutes with Harmony in the lobby at Rapid Air, then we help her and Jenny into the taxi, and then she is gone.

The picture I want to remember, until I see Harmony again, is from a story that Jenny tells.  This little princess knows nothing of cancer, really, knows only that it hurts.  And at two years old, she knows little of God, really, only that He helps.  And so, as Ken and Jenny once traveled the weary road to Grand Rapids, Harmony held out her hands to them and said all that needs to be said, perhaps all that can be said.  In Jenny’s words, “Harmony reached her little hands out to her daddy and me, and said ‘Pray’.  And we prayed.”

And so we pray, that the Lord of the harvest will in His mercy restore this child, will tenderly guard her little head and repeat in her the miracle He has performed a million times since the world began, exchanging golden radiance for forlorn stubble, giving to her and to her family, as Isaiah says…

“…beauty for ashes, The oil of joy for mourning,
The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;
That they may be called trees of righteousness,
The planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified.”

Isaiah 61:3

What I Learned as a Crop Duster

To fly an airplane is, to many people, an apt metaphor for prosperity, a rising above the niggling difficulties of life but, for me, that metaphor no longer fits.  In this, my first season as a crop duster, I returned to my roots as a farm kid and flew airplanes with hard-scrabble names like “Air Tractor” and “Pawnee”, sailing through the wide green canyons of farmers’ fields with crops below and trees above.

Agricultural flying is different from the panel-driven processes we use in instrument flying.  You fly by feel – the sound of the wind and the resistance in the stick and the center of your weight.  You bank all day long.  Pull too little and you don’t turn.  Pull too hard and you don’t fly again, ever.  Pull just right and the airplane sings; you pick a spot on the ground and watch as your wingtip traces a circle around it.  The altitude you claimed as you zoomed over the trees you now give back, little by little, spiraling down, conceding to gravity in exchange for centripetal force, using your lift to pull the field back into view.

It is a dance which does not dull with repetition for the grace of the turn is rewarded with deep satisfaction and the desire to dance well transcends the discouragement of missteps.  But with the dance comes the gritty reality of life with flying machines…  Like the night the airport remained black despite my feverish tap-dance on the radio – which had apparently failed – after bucking ferocious headwinds and now with little fuel to go somewhere else.  The day I landed the lumbering Air Tractor and the right brake pedal went without resistance straight to the floor as the big taildragger veered slowly, inexorably away from the centerline and toward the ditch.  The morning I pulled up to clear the powerline that I expected, directly into a powerline I did not expect.

I remember my first simulated spray flight with Steve, a skillful and experienced spray pilot.  I saw that the field we were to spray cupped out into the adjacent wood, forming a little half-circle large enough for a few short rows of potatoes.  I kept my mouth shut as we skimmed over the tree tops then dove to the surface.  I gulped as I scanned the front and right side windows, both unexpectedly filled with a blur of black and green as we hurtled past tall trees, riding no higher than when, as a kid, I drove a tractor along such fence rows.  Staring forward, I saw trees ahead and well above our path growing rapidly larger and thought “Steve is going to pull up now”, but he didn’t.  It may have been a second later or it may have been a month before he did pull and the windscreen changed, at last, from tree trunks to tree limbs to treetops and, finally, to the blessed blue sky.  As we circled for another pass I arrived at a threshold in my little mind.  Do I really want to do this?  I did not feel afraid, exactly, but I wondered if this dance conformed to predictable laws of physics or if, perhaps, it was a form of slow surrender to chance.

I had read about a maneuver called the “Avalanche” in a book and rode my trusty Super Decathlon high into the sky to try it.  It’s not technically difficult; you perform a loop and, at the top as you hang lightly from your shoulder harness upside down – the earth above the horizon and the sky below – at this moment when your grasp upon the physical world seems must vulnerable and confused, you do what most of your pilot training has taught you to never do: You pull the stick hard to the stop and stomp on a rudder as the stall warning horn wails, in order, I suppose, to fully surrender all that feels safe and familiar.  And then, in a mad blur the horizon twists, the earth twirls from the top of the windscreen to the bottom and again to the top and then, having returned to the relative safe haven of inverted flight at slow airspeed, you center the controls and pull gently to begin the sweeping, accelerating arc to level flight.

Through some defect in my character or reason, I decided to do it again and, over time, came to love it.  At first, I think, I simply did not dare to not try it; to be ruled by fear of something that was apparently safe.  And, in my practice for Ag flying, my feeling was much the same.  Yes, the ground whistled by at normal cruising speeds just below the gear.  Yes, the trees reached hungrily into the field and tossed their heads boisterously above.  And always those cruel wires, barely visible, ready to slice off a wing or grasp a careless wheel. 

And yet, despite my active imagination, they did not really move, did not actively menace.  Low over a field, zooming over treetops or twisting back for the next pass, an airplane does what airplanes always do, given proper commands and airspeed.  In Ag flying the tolerances are reduced and the aircraft performance varies much with load and temperature, but it is a predictable and trustworthy environment, a subset of the consistent and predictable physics of our world.  God has, in his kindness, made it so.

Nonetheless, I found myself in some precarious situations this summer, most of my own creation.  On that dark night when I could not turn airport lights on, I returned to a little grass strip I had passed a few minutes earlier.  Though rarely used, it’s dim runway lights were inexplicably burning.  No people, no fuel, but a safe haven in my personal storm. 

When the Air Tractor began its slow and seemingly irresistible departure from the runway I stomped violently on the right brake, ripped off my shoulder harness so I could stomp harder and yelled aloud for God’s help.   Slowly, the left turn stopped, and the big airplane rolled to a stop at the edge of the runway.  While other airplanes waited, I tried to coax her forward but, even with all of my weight on the opposing brake, she would do nothing but turn circles on the runway. 

When I flew into the powerline, I had no time to react or even pray.  I was passing through the narrow neck of a field between a barn on my left and a house to my right, both ringed with trees.  I had circled the field looking for wires here and was surprised to find none but decided they were probably there, near the road, hidden in the shadows.  The wires were there, in fact, but not near the road. They were well into the field, suspended between poles hidden within the tree lines on my left and right. 

Looking ahead as I skimmed over the crop, the wires were invisible against the gray-green horizon but as I pulled early to pass well above the road I saw for an instant against the gray sky two horizontal lines bisecting my windscreen, perhaps ten feet ahead.  I must have blinked because I then saw nothing and heard nothing, just the sky and the normal roar of the big radial.  I gently tested the controls, especially concerned that the wire had dragged over the sturdy cockpit and sliced off my tail but, no, the rudder responded normally.  In the one hundredth of a second in which I saw my peril the airplane’s massive propeller had sliced through the wires, saving both of our lives.

Why was I, in any of these cases, spared the bitter end which has claimed the lives or careers of better pilots?  They had families, too, expecting them to come home that night.  Of course, I have no answer to that question but several Psalms that I used to read as allegory I now regard as simple fact.  “God is our refuge and our strength, an ever-present help in trouble.”  “Our God is a God who saves; from the Sovereign Lord comes escape from death.”  “In the day of my trouble I will call to you for you will answer me.”  “The Lord protects the simple-hearted; when I was in great need, he saved me.”  “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”

I am anxious, now that harvest time has come, to return to a more normal schedule and to the privilege of occasionally serving with Wings of Mercy.  I return with a renewed awareness that, for many of the people we serve, life comes hard with obstacles hurtling toward them and new, unexpected heartaches waiting around every corner.  As pilots, we are often allowed the great privilege of soaring above this world but, as servants through Wings of Mercy, we are allowed the still greater privilege to “weep with those who weep”, praying for the comfort and deliverance of a merciful God who helps even fools like me.

But you, O Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.  Turn to me and have mercy on me; grant your strength to your servant…for you, O Lord, have helped me and comforted me.

Psalm 86

Jacob

I will always remember what Jacob said when we were circling to land in Milwaukee.  Not the words, which do not come easily to this little boy.  Jacob is sick.  He has always been sick.  When he was four months old, doctors opened his chest to fix a problem with his heart, the most urgent of a long list of problems.  Jacob is four years old now.  He is deaf, he has trouble breathing and his organs are in the wrong place.

Jacob is going to another hospital today.  First by airplane and then, not long after we land, a cab arrives and off he goes.  Again.

While we wait for Jacob and his mother to return, Bryan and I do our best to perform our day jobs in the pilots’ lounge, spreading out computers and legal pads, wishing for internet access, trying to fill the time with work, to give it value.

But I am thinking about Jacob.  The cold calculation begins.  By some measures, Jacob’s life looks to be a net loss.  The gravity of his suffering affects the orbit of everyone around him; time and attention and money are drawn into his need as stars into a black hole.  Much has been spent to knit this child together, administering grace that God in His wisdom chose not to give.

On the other hand, in the few minutes that I have spent with Jacob, I have learned that there is something incalculable here.  For as long as he can remember, Jacob has been pierced and prodded by strangers, touched by hundreds of cold hands in rubber gloves, sat cold and blinking in the metallic glare of many examination rooms.

He should be afraid.  He should be sad.  But he is not.  Jacob offers himself, his little body, in a way I do not understand.  His eyes are wide.  His mouth is often open in wonder or joy.  When you reach for him, his arms reach back in welcome.  This is not the dumb, dazed surrender of the numb.  It is the fierce and hopeful heart of an intelligent four-year-old boy who reaches for joy, and I begin to wonder why I thought Jacob was weak.

He comes back to the airport with a device stuck to the side of his head.  The machine helps him hear, compensates for parts of his body that don’t work.   It sticks because, in an earlier surgery, doctors slipped a magnet under Jacob’s skin.

He grins at me and I wonder: what is this child who has endured so much?  From a distance, he seems part boy, part robot; a life sustained by marvelous technology.  Drawing nearer, he reminds me of a hand-made quilt; bearing a thousand careful stitches of a dozen skillful doctors who wish to make him whole.  But there is no life in a robot or a quilt and what strikes you about Jacob is not his sickness but his life.

There is something radiant in this little lamb.  Something shines through Jacob’s weakness and shoots beams of light and warmth on people who draw near.  Perhaps it is God, after all, who knit this child, and perhaps it was grace to knit him so; a cheerful rebuke to people like me and an almost irresistible invitation to love.  Jacob is affecting my orbit, but he is drawing me out of darkness.

They say that God’s strength is made perfect in weakness and I meet here, in this wounded boy, a truer, brighter strength than I possess.  Jacob lives and loves, unsupported by so much that I consider essential.   He does not measure life as I do, a record of things gained or lost.  Looking at him, beginning, a little, to love him, brings a moment of clarity in which I can imagine unshouldering my load of self.

I said that I will remember what Jacob said when we circled to land in Milwaukee.   I did not know Jacob then, did not know how he measured the world.  I was surprised when I heard his voice; he had not spoken once since we left Holland.  I was banking the airplane to line up with the runway and we thought the feeling of turning had frightened him.   Bryan looked back to see if he was ok and that is when we began to know Jacob.  His eyes were wide and his mouth was open and he was shouting what every pilot says in his heart when an airplane wheels in the sky:  Hallelujah.

Drowning in the Sky

It is a brisk fall morning and Clipper winds are fairly howling out of the West as we descend over Lake Michigan, angling Northwest toward the boundary of Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  We find Reilly and her mom, Lori, in the terminal lobby, ready to go.

Reilly is a cute 9-year-old, slender with long brown hair and a pink GameBoy, unremarkable except for the little cart of oxygen that she tows casually behind.  A long, clear tube which supplies her mask is looped expertly over human limbs and the cart’s metal frame in a complicated pattern probably developed over years of experience.  She makes eye contact with her mother and no one else.  She is not unfriendly, but seems to conserve her focus … for what, I wonder?

Today Reilly is on her way to a hospital where doctors are fighting the disease which steals her breath and tries to steal her life.  The airplane’s cabin is comfortable, but Lori drapes a warm blanket over Reilly’s shoulders.  The GameBoy blinks, the headset slips on, and Reilly is ready to go.

As we head East along the peninsula and then South over Beaver Island, Bryan asks a few questions about Reilly’s condition. The answers are sobering but Lori speaks in a hopeful tone.  There is danger here, but Reilly’s problems seem to be an old and familiar adversary whom Lori refuses to fear.  Reilly pays little attention to the conversation; plays with her game and curls up under the blanket.

She reminds me a little of my youngest daughter and I think that, in Lori’s place, I might not be so brave.  I keep thinking of the pink GameBoy, the warm blanket, the sweet, safe harbor we try to build for our children, insulating them from the dark voids and sharp edges of this world.  But this privilege so common to parents — to seem a benevolent and near omnipotent giant, powerful to protect and please our children — has not been offered to Lori.

This mother-protector has learned to pick her battles against the intruder that stalks her daughter.  She has learned to be calm while her heart races.  She has learned to be wise, as a doctor is wise, about the mechanics of Reilly’s body, to acquire new weapons to use in her daughter’s defense.
But she cannot keep the intruder out; cannot absorb or obstruct or prevent its attack.  Lori does much to provide for Reilly, but she cannot breathe for her.  There is no safe harbor for this child; only the eye of a dangerous storm.

The trip is not long and we are soon within thirty minutes of our destination.  Our request for an early and more gradual descent is held up due to other traffic in the area and so we slow the airplane and, eventually, are cleared to start down.

Within a minute of beginning our descent, Lori sounds the alarm.  The intruder has slipped into our little airplane, and he is suffocating Reilly. The atmospheric pressure in the cabin has increased slightly as we have moved these few hundred feet closer to earth, and Reilly’s fragile lungs are not adjusting.

She gasps as though underwater, finds no relief.  Her lungs flail, confused, her blood grows dim.  Her brain loses its grip and she sinks into darkness.  Her heart is next; pleading for oxygen, it weakens and slows.

Lori quickly rechecks the mask, increases the oxygen flow, slips her hand again under the blanket and takes Reilly’s wrist, fingertips poised lightly, counting.  Her lips compress.  Reilly’s face is turning blue.

As Reilly struggles, we slow our rate of descent from four hundred feet per minute to two hundred … to one hundred, and then to zero.  Several minutes pass without improvement.  In the cockpit, we recalculate fuel reserves and in the cabin, Lori checks the meter on Reilly’s tank.  We are burning through finite supplies of fuel and oxygen, and time.

Bryan, more experienced than I, seems calm.  I seem calm, too, I suppose, but am not.  There is a little girl drowning not six feet away from me, so like my own little girl, and we are trapped, hovering like a sparrow over the wide ocean, unable to land.

We cannot stay up.  We cannot go down, or not much.  The eye of this storm is moving and we try to move with it.  We orbit Saginaw, shaving away thin layers of space from the mile and a half that separates us from earth, and help.

Lori, with much of her world at stake, must choose.  The mother’s tender heart, which writhes in anguish over this threat to her child, or the mother’s trained mind which has learned how to help, how to set aside all that is not needed in this moment.  For the hundredth time, she makes that choice.  She watches her daughter’s battle, measures Reilly’s strength, prays, tucks the blanket a little closer around her little shoulders.
After twenty minutes Reilly’s heart has fought back some and we turn in toward the airport.  She still sleeps but has survived.  Lori, who continues to monitor pulse and respiration, never raised her voice.  The drama here is quiet, familiar.  A breath of fresh air is exceptional in Reilly’s world; drowning is the rule.

We land and at some point during our taxi to the FBO, Reilly wakes up. We hear the sound of Lori’s calm and comforting voice welcoming her to consciousness as any mother might on the morning of any day.  It is an everyday voice without fear, the voice of a benevolent giant who makes the world seem safe, with a safety that Reilly’s intruder cannot violate.
Lori’s love for Reilly does not prevent the attack, it transcends it.

We are back in Saginaw the following week to take Lori and Reilly home.  Not long after we walk into the terminal a call comes in; the hospital has decided that Reilly is not yet strong enough for the flight.

Someone else took Reilly home the following week.  I have not seen her since, though I pray for her when I tuck my own little girl into bed at night.  It is Christmas time now and I think how blessed I am to have this child, and blessed that so much of what she needs is in my power to give.  And I wonder how it is for Lori and her husband, tucking a child into bed who needs what only God can give.

Not so different, perhaps.  Lori has reminded me of what our children need from us. Not just things, which come and go, but something that will never leave them.  Not a safety that keeps them from suffering but one that will carry them through it.  The gift our children need is peace, the knowledge that we are safe because we are loved with a love that is stronger and deeper and truer than the world, a gift we can only give if we have received it ourselves.

I watched Lori give this gift and saw reflected in her a still taller giant, who with faithful love and through great suffering became our peace, our Prince of Peace.

————–
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

John 14:27

Never Again: Ice

It sounded simple; a ten-mile hop back to Lowell to put the airplane to bed.  I had been doing pattern work with a student on this raw winter afternoon.  The overcast, though dark and brooding, hung well above pattern altitude and visibility at the neighboring Class C airport was reported at ten miles.  Tyler had performed very well during this, his first exposure to takeoffs and landings in a tail-wheel aircraft.  By the time we had debriefed and finished up the paperwork, darkness had fallen.

Before closing up the office I checked in with my wife, then turned up my collar against the cold and walked out to the airplane.  While performing my preflight, I took a quick glance at the beacon a hundred yards off, noting that the haze had increased a bit.  Better get a move on.  After a normal run-up and takeoff, I made the shallow turn required to line up with my destination.  With only one passenger, the Super Decathlon does not take long to get to pattern altitude.  In fact, I was hardly out of the pattern before discovering that, yes, conditions had changed.

To stay out of the bases, I adjusted my cruising altitude to 900 AGL.  No problem there, but a minute later a couple of wispy, translucent little clouds appeared in my path.  I had no time to react but, no problem, I just barged right though them and dropped another 100 feet.  The short track between the two airports runs mostly over unlit, rural countryside, but the few lights outside my side window were clear and bright.  I felt a small shiver of anxiety as I began to notice that, just ahead, where Lowell ought to be, I could see a general glow, but no lights in particular.  There was nothing wrong with Lowell, as I confirmed by turning to put the city off my port wing.
The problem was trying to see through a windshield spattered with ice.  Over the past five minutes, flying through a barely discernible drizzle, I had accumulated enough of the stuff to seriously reduce my forward visibility.  I flew the pattern anyway, expecting that the forever beautiful and welcoming strings of runway lights would somehow take shape before me.

The runway at Lowell is short, guarded by large trees on each end.  I flew a tight pattern and kept my airspeed low, ready to pounce upon the first evidence of safe haven.  I turned final and saw…nothing.

Knowing that I was near the trees, I broke off immediately, climbed out, and headed back toward Greenville, and longer runways, and a pattern I have flown, it seems, a million times.  This was a poor decision.  Grand Rapids was bigger and closer.  While the Super-D is not instrument-certified, I would have received help from their excellent controllers and could, perhaps, have followed the ILS “rabbit” toward a stable, if vague, approach.  But I did not go to Grand Rapids, did not even call them for flight following.  I got myself into this mess and I would get myself out.

I picked up more ice over the next five minutes while returning to Greenville.  Approaching from the South, I announced my position and joined the downwind, flying comfortably down the ruts I had worn in this part of the sky.  I took comfort in the brightness of the runway lights, the sight of a friend’s house glowing cozily in the distance, the familiar landmarks that feel like tractor beams, drawing your airplane safely home.  I saw these things through my side window.

Turning final, I can no longer see even a glow.  The rough, pebbled surface of the accumulating ice crystals on the windscreen now refracts all light. Easing down the glide path, which had long seemed so comfortable and familiar and automatic, I now realize that these feelings had all been an illusion.  My safety and the safety of my passengers have always depended upon my preparation and the suitability of my ship for the conditions.  And here I am, unprepared, stuck in an airplane whose capability is steadily decreasing.

For the first time in my life, I am in the air, wishing I were on the ground.  And I have no idea how to get there.  I break off the approach and go around.  The familiar landmarks are no longer comforting.  I announce my position as I again turn downwind, base and final, strangely curious to see if I sound like I’m in trouble.

The second approach is a repetition of the first, an exercise in denial.  But, no, the windscreen is black now, and regardless of my efforts to twist and lean and stretch, there is no way to see around the obstruction.  For me, the lights have gone out.  I am a praying man, and not ashamed to say so, and my prayer at this moment is simple.  “I got myself into this mess and I cannot get myself out. For the sake my children (who deserve a more sensible parent), will you please help me?”

Even now, the cockpit is wonderful to me.  I love this airplane and the stick feels good in my hand.  I do not even feel particularly afraid.  I just know that the situation has escalated beyond my ability to deal with it.  This is still clearer in my third approach as, during a turn at 80 mph, I feel the onset of a stall buffet.  The wings, also, have been collecting ice.  A stumbling in the engine prompts me to shift to alternate air.  I am running out of time.

On this, my third trip around the pattern, I try to slip the airplane to the ground, sighting the runway through the side window and a corner of the windscreen.  I am concerned about a stall and carry a lot of power. The width of the ice of the windshield requires a deep slip to be able to see the runway and I sway crazily down, trying to balance airspeed, direction, and my tiny sight picture.  Near the runway, I somehow lose some of the slip and, with it, all view of the runway environment. So near the ground, there’s no time to get it back, so I go around again.

At this point, I face the fact that my name will probably appear in tomorrow’s newspaper.  My fourth trip around the pattern is, essentially, killing time (so to speak), casting about for options. There is a large lake nearby, well frozen, but I don’t see it as more survivable, given the lack of surface lighting.  Besides, the airplane is flying badly, with wings now well loaded with ice.  I conclude that it is time.  In two minutes, I will be on the ground.

I keep my speed up in the pattern, especially as I slip down on final.  The slip, though extreme, is fairly stable this time.  I am going to drive this thing into the ground.  The left runway edge lights are all I can see.  I try to stay about twenty feet to their right.  My landing light is, of course, canted off in a useless direction, so by the time I can see the ground it will be too late to flare.

As I get to the height of the runway lights I begin a flare, not wanting to take out the slip.  There is a layer of ice on the runway and, though I have little hope of staying on the runway, it should reduce the side-load on touchdown. In the next moment, I yank back on the stick and (apparently, though I do not remember it) take out the rudder and, after a shockingly mild touchdown, find myself coasting more or less straight down the runway, based upon my distance from the runway lights flitting by.  I get on the brakes, and make my way, haltingly, to the ramp, as if by braille.

I am, to this day, surprised at this conclusion.  Personally, I believe that a prayer was answered, though you may credit my survival to dumb luck.  In any case, my slowness to recognize and respond to the lethal threat of icing nearly produced a widow and four fatherless children and, for that, I will always be sorry.