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Yes, this is beautiful country

Jul 25, 2013 - By Betty Starks Case

But until last week, I'd never really seen it before

I'll declare at the beginning that this column involves a lot of hot air -- realizing, of course, that this may not be the first time such a declaration was made.

You may think you've seen all there is to see or felt the full experience of hot-air ballooning. But unless you've hopped into the big basket and seen our beautiful town and countryside from the heavenly view, I'm here to tell you you're missing a glorious trip.

Well, "hopped into the basket" may be a bit of a stretch.

The wicker-like vessel of the Riverton Cloud Kisser balloon my mate and I were privileged to ride in last week does not have a door. Actually, we were lifted into it by the arms of friends who gifted us with the trip.

How better to begin an ascent to the skies?

On a perfect weather day, with Pat Newlin as pilot, my mate and I and our friends' son Spencer, a young doctor, as riders, Cloud Kisser slowly and smoothly lifted us to an altitude where we looked down on a gorgeous landscape of green trees, lawns and fields.

I've always seen this as beautiful country. Yet in a sense, I never really saw it before.

Floating softly over our hometown and surrounding area, I felt we must surely be in another realm. A sense of peace at the quiet beauty overcame me -- and lingered.

I didn't want the trip to end. Strangely, I remembered my brother's story of an experience where he'd seen heaven and didn't want to return.

But here on Earth, even a balloon must come down.

Reality and gravity brought us back. Suddenly.

The barren ditch bank we landed on didn't yield like a green field or pasture of growing plants.

And yet -- perhaps this was the jolt I needed to return me to Earth.

"Bend your knees and hang on!" Pat called out.

As I lurched forward, the quick thinking young physician's arm wrapped around me. Suddenly I realized why he might have joined that particular trip. I'm not very big, and my mate was on the opposite side confirming his own grasp on the basket.

Once grounded, a ride in the Cloud Kisser ends with a delightful ceremony. We were invited to record our response to the trip in Pat's flight journal, followed by a champagne christening, and a touching nature prayer.

With champagne sparkling in our hair and dry throats refreshed, we became genuine "Cloud Kissers." Each was gifted with a lovely pin to prove it.

This marvelous trip was crowned with an outdoor breakfast at a local restaurant shared by balloonmeister Pat, and sponsored by our dear friends and family.

You'd think we were celebrating our July wedding anniversary - just one day away.

And you might expect this to be the end of my story. But it isn't.

The following weekend, the Riverton Rendezvous Balloon Rally performed like none we'd seen in all our years of balloon watching.

We rose early to drive to the CWC launch field and were fortunate to get a great view in the shade of a large tree to watch Riverton's beautiful Cloud Kisser lead the ascent.

Once airborne, "C.K." promptly began to head southwest -- toward our house.

We turned our car around and sped to our home west of the driving range.

There, Cloud Kisser moved directly over us, caught a variable air current, turned a wide, smooth curve just beyond our home and headed right back toward town.

Balloon chase cars must have taken quite a trip trying to determine where the colorful orbs were going. Most of the 25 or so balloons followed the route of Cloud Kisser and flew almost a complete circle around Riverton.

Except for one.

While we stood at our back fence in awe of the circuitous flight, Alien Inflation, the ghostly green balloon with mysterious dark, slanted eyes and quizzical smile, landed on the driving range not far behind our yard.

Just as you'd expect a true alien to do.

Our telephone rang.

"I hear you've been floating around up in the clouds," came Son's voice from Spokane, Wash. "Don't you think we should talk about this?"

Could be.

As for my mate and me, we'll never forget the year we kissed the clouds to celebrate a long and blest marriage.

And the friends and hometown that happily became a part of it all.

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