Time never stood still in the small village of Tarampura, one in a chain along the Great Baliem Valley. This was the home the ornamental Dani. Marta Springer knew her link of the chain all too well. Two years ago next month, she reminded herself, shivering at the repulsive thought. She shook her head trying to escape sadness as she set out to inspect the airfield. I want to make sure it is neat for the new guy. Viewing the landing strip so critically brought back painful memories.
“This is the best way to remember Raymond,” she had said two years before, upon return after burying her late husband. “He had always spoken of making a runway near the village. You know how slow the boats are.” She reminded Jason of the 25 miles from Tiom, forever by boat but only a few minutes by air.
Within weeks some of the pilots had traveled by boat, surveyed the area, and found a place that would be suitable for a runway. They had hired some men from the village who worked with stone axes to clear an outline of what would be a 25 foot by 1700 foot airstrip.
“I’d always wanted to land in your village. You have no idea how beautiful it looks nestled between the mountain and the Baliem River,” Steve had said as he and his crew spent the night.
“How long do you think it will take? I mean, I can’t believe this is all happening. I wish Raymond could be here to see his dream.” Marta had said.
“Raymond would be proud. Proud of the strip, and proud of your hard work. We should be done in about six months provided the weather holds out and the workers keep their interest,” Steve had said.
“I don’t think the Dani will be a hard sell for the idea of a landing strip. I think they’ll be eager to build a place where the aloof motorized birds could roost.” Marta had said of the comments Steve had made. They’d seen planes fly overhead, but had never touched nor seen one up close.
“Just look around. Men wearing nothing but gourds, taming the jungle growth with stone axes. It’s a sight for any anthropologist,” Marta had said.
“The influence of modern technology is leaving its mark. Pretty soon, they won’t remember what life without an air strip was like,” Steve had said.
Within weeks they had burned away much of the clearing. This method assisted in the hunt for scarce meat and was often used in defense as warring tribes were flushed out of any cover by an all consuming fire. When the burning and stone axes proved futile, there were always the chain saws from Tiom. The villagers loved the loud noise and display of raw power as a fueled chain whirled around chewing up any resistance. Men toiling to move mounds of dirt had the most tedious and back breaking of work. Human earth movers burdened under the weight of the soil, had traversed in monotonous patterns as they had smoothed the landing strip as much as possible.
Finally, one month ahead of schedule, the runway was complete. Marta and the excited villagers had watched as Steve’s Cessna 182 spiraled into the valley. Some of them became jumpy as the engine suddenly went quiet about a mile from the runway. “A young boy named Tucker thought it would crash, but Marta had only smiled. She knew it was part of the procedures to bleed of speed and slow the airplane enough to land.
Marta had seen Steve smiling from ear to ear as he climbed out of his aircraft. In mass, the whole village had moved down to see him, surrounding the man from the sky and touching his blue and white bird. They wondered what kind of magic made this machine soar so high. Some had tried to find out as they anticipated the chance to experience flight; they would become legendary.
Jeffrey W. Bennett, is the author of Commitment-A Novel and other non-fiction books, novels and periodicals.