It gets me every time. I know the Winthrop Balloon Roundup is coming. I see it on the community calendar. I hear about it on KTRT. I get reminded of it at the weekly Methow Valley News staff meeting on Wednesday morning. I read about it when the newspaper arrives in my mailbox on Thursday afternoon. There are people who can claim that they didn’t know it was the Balloon Roundup weekend, but I am not one of those people.
And yet I’m always taken aback on that first Friday in March when I arrive at the river corridor and the sky is filled with floating jewels — rainbow, green and white, that jaunty yellow one with the potato plant, the crimson and baby blue one that took my breath away before I noticed the online megaretailer’s shameless self-promotion adorning it. There’s no other way to say it: seeing these balloons “sparks joy.” (Thank you, Marie Kondo.)
It sparks a lot of joy, in fact. You know how when you look into your top drawer and your socks are all neatly rolled and organized by color and you feel that “little thrill, as if the cells in your body are slowly rising”?
No, me neither.
But surely you can imagine that bodily experience of cellular buoyancy, right? Wonder and awe, the world seen afresh, that whole thing? That’s what I get at my first glimpse of those balloons each year.
I remember going to college and watching kids who had never seen snow before experience a snowstorm for the first time. They ran outside in their socks, turned their faces to the sky, and held their arms out while twirling around in circles, just like in Disney Christmas movies, but somehow not corny. For them, the snowflakes sparked joy. The balloons do that for me every year; as if I’m seeing them for the first time over and over again, like being in aeronaut’s version of Groundhog Day.
It turns out that not only do I forget that the Balloon Roundup is coming, I forget that I’ve written about it before. Checking my records, I see that I wrote about the joy-sparking surprise experience of the balloons in 2012, 2014 and 2016. Ten years later, this annual event still catches me unawares!
In 2012 I got to go up in a balloon with Bob of Lighter Than Air Adventures. One of his chase crew members, Dan, shared a cute story with me then, and if I’ve forgotten that story, I’m quite sure you have too, so I’ll tell it again. Dan’s daughter was raised in and around hot air balloons from the time she was born. When she returned home after her first day of kindergarten, Dan asked her how it went. “Fine,” she said, “but hardly anyone has a balloon.”