Ask Gordon Holm what it is, exactly, that he loves about taking to the Rim country skies, the normally eloquent pilot and flying instructor goes silent.
But then he points to a plaque on the wall of his Sky Park home. The plaque bears the words of a poem titled "High Flight," by John Gillespie Magee Jr.
Those words, Holm says, sum up the joy of flying more than he ever could:
"Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there,
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air.
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I've topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or even eagle flew
And, while with silent lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand and touched the face of God."
"There's not a pilot alive who doesn't know that poem by heart," says Holm, 70, who has been airborne for 48 years and working "on and off" as a flight instructor for just three years less. "That says it all."
Well, not quite all. Because somehow, the author neglected to mention the particular joys of airplane ownership and operation in the Payson area.
On that topic, Holm who's lived in these parts for four years has plenty of his own words.
"It's a little more of a challenge to fly from a high-altitude airport than it is from sea level," he says of this area's uniqueness. "Payson is a very nice training airport, because there's almost always a crosswind. Flight instructors are always looking for airports with crosswinds to draw students into learning how to handle them."
But literally above and beyond all of that, he adds, are the visual pleasures.
"There are far more panoramic views to see from the air than from anywhere on the ground," Holm says. "If you've got visitors who've never seen this area from the air, you have no choice but to fly them right along the Mogollon Rim; that's just about the pure definition of 'breathtaking' right there.
"But another great thing about Payson is that it's so close to so many other views you can only get from the sky: I'd take them over to Sedona and let them see the red rocks ... Flagstaff and the Page areas are real beautiful ... and while a trip from here to Monument Valley would be a little long, it's an incredible trip up and back."
While he charges his students to learn how to take such trips by themselves, he received his own training for free, courtesy of the Marine Corps, which he joined in 1950.
"At that time they needed pilots ... so I went down, took the test, and got accepted to the Navy Flight School," he remembers. "I've been flying ever since."
Over the years Holm has earned his living by training pilots for Lufthansa Airlines; by flying charter and bank-mail flights all over Arizona; and, to this day, by passing on his aviation knowledge.
He bought his very first plane, a 1969 Cessna 152, in 1970. His second, the one he still flies to this day, is a 1969 Mooney M20-G, which he picked up in Tucson in 1972.
Believe it or not, Holm did not spend his youth dreaming of flying ... or even giving the pastime much thought at all.
"Growing up, I lived close to Wichita, and used to watch B-17s and B-29s fly over our farm while I was ground-bound, sitting on a tractor," he remembers. "I also used to go out to the Wichita Municipal Airport, where they were being built so I always had an interest in aviation. But I never gave a thought to doing it until I was in the Marine Corps."
What was it that altered his life the first time he climbed behind the controls of an airplane?
"I loved the freedom. And if you want a little peace and quiet and freedom from the hectic world, it's really nice to get in the airplane, go up, turn all the radios off, and just look at the scenery."
Teaching folks how to enjoy that scenery themselves is Holm's second passion but, given the choice, he prefers to take on students who already have a private pilot's license and upgrade them to an advanced license because, as he says, "I'm getting a little tired of people trying to kill me."
But then Holm backsteps and admits that he'll teach anyone who has "the time, energy, dedication and wherewithal to do it in a short time frame.
"When you spread instruction out over a long period of time, you get into some big problems of retention of information and remembering the things they need to remember ... It takes time and repetition to get people in shape. If they can't do it regularly, they're throwing away good time and money. The shorter time you take to learn how to fly, the cheaper it is."
What's the first thing wannabe-flyboys and girls should do?
"Sit down and talk with me," Holm says. "I'd go through a demonstration flight and at least let them have the opportunity to see if this is really what they want to do."
To do just that, or to get more information, call Gordon Holm at 472-6701.