Flight (John Steinbeck story)

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Flight (John Steinbeck story)

Two brothers with toy rifles in the New Forest

My brother and I in the New Forest, likely in August 1964

One of John Steinbeck’s punchy short stories that sticks in my mind is Flight (or Man Hunt) which illuminates the burdens that women in general and mothers in particular endure, and the unimaginable pain they sometimes have to bear. That story is set near the Salinas valley, California, in the early 20th century. I am sure I am haunted by it because its central male viewpoint character seems so much like me — or like I used to be at 18 years old, as he is in the story. Steinbeck even throws in the gratuitous legend of the ‘dark watchers’ of the Santa Lucia Mountains of San Luis Obispo county, which paradoxically seems to contribute to bringing the story to life.

Like young Pepé, I used to practice throwing a knife. I also shot at targets with my father’s old air pistol, eventually being able to squeeze the trigger while still bringing the gun out of its holster (the same one that Ed is wearing in the accompanying photo) and hitting the bullseye. (Eventually the pistol’s spring wore out.) I believe I still hold a rifle accuracy record from sixth form college: All the bullets from the magazine went through the same ragged hole in the target – which I still have. I had enough anger and temper to wind up with the same fate as Pepé. There but for the grace of god go I, as religious folk say.

Steinbeck’s genius, as with all good writers, is the way his words impart aspects of human nature that are not necessarily analyzed by science. For example, the innate understanding by the very young, even when they seem to lack enough life knowledge. As Pepé rides away from home, the youngest asks the middle sibling (girl or boy, I forget which) if he is dead. “Not yet,” the other replies.

Whether it is related or not I have no idea, but Roger Platt of 1970s hang glider manufacturer Kestrel Kites, Poole, Dorset, England, emigrated to San Luis Obispo. At a hang gliding site near there in the early 1980s he saw what he categorized as an alien flying machine (UFO). Such reports by ordinary people can be easily dismissed, rightly or wrongly, but when someone of Roger’s reliability makes such a claim, it has to be taken seriously, in my view. Maybe the dark watchers are extra-terrestrial in origin.

Coincidentally, another individual who frequented that flying site went on the be the lead aerodynamicist on projects including the B-2 Spirit stealth bomber, which fits the popular notion of an alien ship.

External links

American bomber in Mitchell Wing on my other web site, Hang Gliding History, for the origins of the Northrop-Grumman B-2

Marty Alameda and Flight Designs on Hang Gliding History — the page that led me to the writings of John Steinbeck

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