By W. Scott Olsen
Prairie Sky is a celebration of curiosity and a book for explorers. In this collection of contemplative essays, Scott Olsen invites readers to view the world from a pilot’s seat, demonstrating how, with just a little bit of altitude, the world changes, new relationships become visible, and new questions seem to rise up from the ground.
Q: What first drew you to flying?
I have always been interested in flight and flying. Both my mother and father have some background in aviation and their stories were classic inspirations. My mistake was not taking flying lessons when I was very young. I knew I was not going to be a professional pilot, and flying can be expensive, so I avoided the lessons under the guise of being practical and responsible. When I started work on a book about some pilots, however, I knew I had to take a lesson or two just to gain an insight into their world, and I was hooked right then.
Q: Where are you most looking forward to exploring that you haven't yet?
I look forward to exploring almost everything. There is a sense of unfolding and purpose in a life led by curiosity and I find that very attractive.
Q: Your new website has a collection of beautiful photographs that you've taken during your travels. What do you try to capture when you're taking these pictures?
I am not a photographer by any real sense of that word, but I think I do have some ability to frame a shot, to see what in a landscape might be interesting to focus on. This is very much the same insight a writer seeks—to find that or those details that speak louder than others. I am interested in clouds and weather photographs because those things are so transient, so changing. Sometimes what I am doing is preserving a moment’s theater or beauty. With my other shots, what I am looking for is either a moment of insight, or a perspective that reveals something new.
Q: Do you plan to write about places before you visit them, or do you wait for a place that sparks up an inspiration during your visit?
There are a thousand places I want to visit, and I am a writer, so at one level I plan to write about every place I visit. It could be my kitchen. It could be Rannoch Moor. Sometimes I do get inspiration when I’m on a trip, but more often than not my role during a trip is just detail and impression collecting. When I get home and I begin to sort through the stories and photographs—that’s when I understand what shape the writing might take.
Q: What is your most memorable flying experience?
I own a national and world speed record. Seriously. I did not break a record, I set one. I discovered there was no official record for the fastest flight across North Dakota in the type of airplane I fly (in those days a Cessna 152), so I decided to set that record. It did not matter how fast I flew—no one had done this before. A Cessna 152 is not a fast airplane. I was often passed by trucks and cars on the highways below me. But I set the record. It was a beautiful day for flying.
Q: Have you already decided on your next adventure?
There are always small adventures and trips coming up, but my current hope for the next book is to return to road-trip stories. I want to make one grand road trip that touches the westernmost, then northernmost, then easternmost, then southernmost points of the North American road system. I will probably do this in my Jeep, but there is a small voice in my work that says take a motorcycle. Who knows. The working title is The Last Great Ride.
Be sure to check out W. Scott Olsen's new website, and check back here frequently for more UMP blog posts!