Rhode Island Monthly - High Society

It was when the ground fell away beneath us that I realized we were indeed going up, 800 feet above sea level, straight up into blue sky, in a vessel reminiscent of my old Mercedes. On the exterior, the Enstrom 280C belonging to Bird’s Eye View Helicopters is a sleek driving machine; on the interior, it’s cozy with alarm-clock-size dials lined up one on top of the other. Of course, why they saw fit to design the helicopter with glass panels on the ceiling and the floor is beyond me. Not only can my twenty-five-year-old daughter, Wally (companion in all such adventures) and I look up into infinity, we can look down too. Aquidneck Island, which we know for a fact is crawling with traffic, seems as sweet and pastoral as a Maxwell Mays painting.

The subtle purr emanating from our headsets reminds me of the sound you hear when you hold a big seashell to your ear, a kind of distant roar. And this is fitting because suddenly we’re over the water and – who knew helicopters pirouetted like that? Pilot Jeff Codman deftly banks his fire-engine red chopper into a curve and we flutter on up the coast, following the Cliff Walk, past the mansions. Reduced to dollhouse size, the giant buildings have never appeared so livable.

Wally and I signed up for the mansion tour because, in truth, it was advertised as being shorter than the exclusive island tour. We’re playing it safe, although neither one of us would ever admit to being fearful. Women we admire scale mountains when they’re not working on a new formula for nuclear fission. For a second, we register a little wind buffeting our craft and maybe we could grip hands. Instead, having decided that we wouldn’t fret about those funny-looking blades keeping us airborne, Wally and I focus on the views and – wow – they are fabulous. Every Rhode Islander should see the state this way, the expanses of what looks like clear, untouched blue water melting into vast tracts of green.

Miraculously, we do not fall out of the sky, and what we’ve read and never fully understood before comes clear: horizons do beckon. All we want to do is fly on and on. When Codman, with a feather- touch, guides us back to the airport and settles us like a giant butterfly on a tiny yellow landing pad we’re saddened. Not with him, nor his amazing magic carpet but that we’re once again land-held. For the rest of the day, Wally and I are slightly disoriented the way you are when you’ve been at sea. We call each other several times – because no one else wants to listen, again, to how astonishingly lovely it was to be above it all.