The Bush Pilot Who Made My Day

January 30, 2011

We were in Red Lake, Ontario for a week long fishing trip, the kind where you fly a little puddle jumper to some remote lake in the middle of nowhere. The plane lands in the water and you unload your gear on the dock and stay in a little wooden cabin with no electricity. There’s running water, supplied by a giant tub on the roof of the cabin that collects rainwater and uses gravity to push the water through the kitchen faucet. There’s a small shower too, and an outhouse out back.

Be careful when you’re in the outhouse, not because the critters might make a home there but because when you’re in there doing your business, some of your prankster fishing buddies might crack the door open and throw a packet of firecrackers on the floor. Imagine trying to take a dump with 16 Black Cat firecrackers exploding at your feet. It literally scares the shit out of you.

So first they weigh us and weigh our gear to make sure we’re not over the limit, then six of us pile into this small plane. Since I’m the youngest, I get to sit in the cockpit beside the pilot, a stocky plug of a man, as Canadian as they come. Red flannel shirt hanging almost to his knees, matching red baseball cap stained with oil with a dark spot on the bill the shape of two fingers, a scar left by constantly adjusting his brim.

I like it up front. There’s nothing for me to do except enjoy the view and observe the pilot, maybe jump in and try and land the thing if he dies or bails out midflight. The rest of the guys are piled in the back, strapped into front-facing jump seats, buried by our gear. Only their happy, grinning faces are visible. It took about ten hours of driving to get here from Minneapolis, plus an overnight stay in a dive hotel built right on the water – literally sitting on a pier above the lake. And now we were finally departing for our lake, which we will have to ourselves for an entire week once we land.

Six guys, three boats, one lake, and about two million walleye.

The engine grinds to life, the single propeller starts to swing and off we go, accelerating along the surface until the pilot lifts us gently off the water. As we rise above Red Lake I see fisherman standing along the shore. Some of them cast their lines into the deeps, while others merely stand still with their arrows knocked and their bows drawn, aiming at the water, waiting for an unsuspecting carp to slither by.

The flight doesn’t last long, twenty minutes maybe. I see nothing but pristine forest in every direction. The land is flat, and covered with trees. There is a lake here or there, some hills, an old gold mine, and finally before us opens the wide still water of Knox Lake, our hunting ground for the next week.

The pilot quietly begins his descent and guides the plane through a pair of tall pine trees that grow like spires right out of the water. We touch the surface so softly that it feels like we’re still flying but the pilot suddenly shuts off the engine and then we drift.

And drift. And drift.

Two or three minutes pass and we sit quietly, drifting along the water in this plane. The pilot just sits there watching the water. He’s motionless, silent, his head cocked slightly as he ponders his flight back to Red Lake, or what he’ll eat for lunch, or possibly just taking in the beauty of the wilderness.

I wonder if I should say something to him. Ask him why we’re just drifting and when he plans to start the engine and drive the plane to the shore but then I see it. Our dock, just ahead, sitting against the rocky shore at the bottom of a dirt path that leads to our cabin.

The plane is drifting towards the dock and then I figure it out, and it’s brilliant.

The drifting plane has just enough momentum to coast right up to the dock – and I do mean just enough momentum. As we slow, and slow, we ease to a stop right at the edge of our dock. I can literally open the door of the plane and step right onto the dock. An absolutely perfect landing. The timing was precise. I realized this pilot probably knows exactly how fast he needs to be going, and knows the exact spot where he needs to touch down, the exact angle (factoring in wind speed and water current) that the plane must have in order to drift to a perfect stop right at the edge of our dock.

The rest of the guys in the plane love it. From the back I hear a chorus of cat calls, impressed whistles and comments like “Not bad!” and “This guy’s a pro!”

I’m as impressed as any of them and I turn to look at the pilot. With his tiny beaming eyes, his three-day growth of scruff and the strongest Canadian accent I’ve ever heard, he looked at me and says, “Today’s my first day.”

Mark McGinty is the award winning author of The Cigar Maker and Elvis and the Blue Moon Conspiracy. His work has appeared in Cigar City Magazine and La Gaceta.


I Didn’t Know Crab Meat Was Made with Baby Shrimp

January 24, 2011

I was surprised to learn that my recipe for fish stew required some immediate modifications….

BumbleBee "Crab Meat"

 

I will be sure to update you with the status of my conversations with the BumbleBee people…


The Legend of the Ivory Elvis

January 21, 2011

Just for fun, here is an excerpt from my first book Elvis and the Blue Moon Conspiracy….

From Chapter 2

Stomach churning, Richter turned his plane towards the carcasses and increased the throttle. Twenty seconds later, he soared above the massacre, and tried for a body count as he passed. There must have been fifty, he thought, as he turned the plane for another run. This time he observed the swamps of blood oozing from where the great animals’ tusks should have been. With his heart beating furiously, Richter climbed higher and higher, angrily scanning the ground for any sign of the perpetrators.

He flew circles for ten minutes, increasingly wider, until he spotted a convoy of pickup trucks fleeing the scene. Their beds were filled with bloody elephant tusks. Up ahead, Richter could see they were headed for a small village. People ran from their homes as the trucks arrived and their occupants began to raid the settlement.

Feeling powerless, Richter wished he had a fighter jet so he could fire his cannons and wipe out the poachers one by one. Just as they had done to those elephants. But his plane had no cannons, so Richter just kept circling and wondering what to do. Below him, the poachers ransacked the village.

What Richter didn’t see was a lone Maasai fleeing the action with a two-foot object in a sack under his arm.

When the trucks finally left the village, they headed north towards Kilimanjaro. Richter flew ahead of them. He followed a road that curved around the jungle, and soon came across their destination. It was a small camp at the base of the mountain that appeared to have once been some type of farm. The camp was quiet, and Richter estimated he had thirty minutes before the poachers arrived.

He landed his plane in a nearby field, grabbed his knapsack and headed for the camp. He reached it quickly and didn’t hesitate to set fire to the poachers’ tents and sleeping bags. He torched their clothes, smashed their communications equipment and emptied their fuel and water supplies. Richter felt liberation and a sort of cosmic praise from the souls of the fallen elephants. He stood back and watched the poachers’ camp burn and crumble to ashes.

A mile away, Kigoma and his men spotted the rising column of smoke at the base of Kilimanjaro. They knew instantly it was their camp that was burning.

“Hurry!” Kigoma ordered. “Salvage what you can!”

Richter knew he didn’t have much time. He ran back to his plane and climbed into the cockpit just as a pair of pickup trucks appeared through the smoke. Richter had been spotted. He kicked the engine into full throttle and maneuvered his plane towards the field for takeoff.

The pickup trucks were catching up. Gunshots exploded behind him as Richter accelerated and started to outrun the poachers. Just as his plane reached the speed it needed to get off the ground, Richter felt a sudden jolt in his seat and then the plane dropped to the left and started to rumble. He had lost a tire. The plane bounced along the hard dirt and steered uncontrollably to the left. Richter hit the brakes but momentum and a blown tire were spinning the plane towards a patch of thick foliage.

The plane crashed into a tree, breaking Richter’s left wrist on impact. He climbed out of the cockpit as the poachers’ trucks arrived just yards away. One fired a shot but Richter had already disappeared into the jungle. He ran towards Kilimanjaro, clutching his broken wrist and dodging branches as he escaped the furious poachers.

“This way!” A voice called through the brush and Richter halted his jog, ready to defend himself from anyone who might attack. He saw a wiry villager crouching behind a tree. He seemed frightened and harmless, but the wary Richter kept his distance.

“I know the way out. Come!” The villager turned and disappeared into the jungle. Richter’s instincts told him to follow.

When he reached a safe place, Moja stopped and waited for Richter to catch up. The two were soon sitting on a slab of rock beside Mt. Kilimanjaro. “I am Moja.”

Richter nodded. “Scott.”

Moja inspected Richter’s broken wrist. He used sticks and vines to concoct a splint, which he tied in place.

“They destroyed my village.” Moja said as he worked. His eyes were red. Richter could see he had been crying. “I was on my way to a friendly settlement along the river when I heard gunshots.”

“I couldn’t let them get away with it. Your village, the elephants.”

“And you destroyed their camp?”

Richter nodded and Moja smiled in appreciation. The two strangers had already developed a mutual respect for one another. Now they were stranded as the only survivors of the poachers’ efforts.

“They wanted ivory,” Moja said. “They wanted this.”

Moja presented his sack and handed it to Richter. Richter reached inside and removed a white statuette. He regarded it with interest. “Is this Elvis?”

Moja nodded. “It is our idol. I carved it myself. Jailhouse Rock. No?”

Richter shrugged. “I guess not.”

The ivory relic stood two feet tall. Elvis wore a suit and held a microphone at his mouth. The fires Kigoma’s poachers had set at Maasai Village had charred the entire left side.

“This is the last relic of our people,” Moja explained. “As long as it is in this jungle, it will not survive the ivory thieves. Take the Ivory Elvis to America, where it can safely reside forever. See to it that it stays in the right hands.”

Richter cradled the figure. It was heavy and detailed. Even the folds of Presley’s jacket had been meticulously carved into the ivory. Richter was impressed by Moja’s craftsmanship. If it weren’t for the blemish of heat across the left side, the Ivory Elvis would be pristine. But Richter felt the burn gave an earthy sense of character to the piece.

He humbly accepted his mission and promised Moja that in America his treasure would claim no price. Moja smiled. “Thank you, my American friend. Now I will take you to the river. You can catch a boat from there and find your way home.”

“What about the poachers?”

Moja sadly hung his head. “You burned their camp so they will move elsewhere and find another herd.”

Richter protested. “We’ve got to stop them.”

“You tried and lost your plane.”

Richter understood. The poachers would thrive and there was nothing he could do about it. Perhaps he could return one day with the resources to stop the poachers forever but now he had to leave. With the Ivory Elvis in his hand, Richter offered Moja the only thing he could, his camera.

But the modest villager only smiled. “Where would I develop the film?”

Richter was embarrassed that he had nothing else to trade.

“See the Ivory Elvis to safety,” Moja told him. “That is your gift to me. Now you must hurry. They are approaching.”

The sound of trucks rumbled in the distance.


The Cigar Maker Wins Fiction Honors

January 1, 2011

Seventh Avenue Productions is proud to announce that The Cigar Maker by Mark Carlos McGinty has won Honorable Mention in the General Fiction categories at both the London Book Festival and the New England Book Festival.

The Cigar Maker is the story of a Cuban cigar maker who battles labor strife and vigilante violence in 1900′s Tampa, Florida. It is based on true events.


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