It first happened around 1970 or so. I was 18 and impressionable and into my life walked (or was it flew?) the words of a man on the wings of a bird. Not a cardinal, the bird of my home state, or a robin, so common in those parts, or even a mallard, which flies overhead each spring and fall.
The bird that flew into my life and the man, whose carefully crafted sentences were to touch it again and again for 40 years and still counting, were Jonathan Livingston Seagull and his creator Richard Bach.
Since that day—specific date on the calendar left unremembered back in those days of tie-died t-shirts and bellbottom blue jeans—Bach has flown into my life again and again, each time bringing me new characters to love, new words to entertain, new thoughts to inspire.
Just when I needed them they found me—his books and his characters. Donald Shimoda in “Illusions,” little Dickie in “Running from Safety,” Budgeron Ferret in “Writer Ferrets: Chasing the Muse,” and more.
About this time last year, Bach, whose path had crossed mine in real life (IRL, in cyber terms) while he was on Twitter for a short time a couple years ago, embarked on an adventure. As he did, he chronicled it on a website, now inactive.
The adventure was a cross-country flight with a new love, a character not unlike Jonathan Livingston Seagull.
This love of Bach’s life had wings like Jonathan, could touch down on the water like the illustrious gull, and had the ability to inspire, just like that prodigy-turned-mentor in Bach’s first bestseller. Her name is Puff. She can swim. She can fly.
Mortals would call her an amphibious airplane, a SeaRey. Bach would call her a spirit, for that she is.
Those posts Richard Bach first shared with a family of readers in cyberspace are now available in the pages of a book, one I held in my hands this week, so hot off the press that I can smell the inks used to bring it to life.
In “Travels with Puff: A Gentle Game of Life and Death,” the author pours onto the pages a love story, an adventure chronicle, an inspirational work sure to warm the hearts of his most avid family of readers and strong enough to draw into that family a new band of members.
In the early pages, we see a dance of courtship, reminiscent of some ritual of nature’s precious creatures, as Richard and Puff take steps, cautious at first, elegant before long, falling one for the other, earning trust, growing in love.
Bach’s adventures with Puff begin near the lakes of Florida, Puff’s birthplace and first home, but the author’s dream is to get her to his hangar in the San Juan Islands of Washington State.
As the pair court, the author and long-time pilot begins to prepare for the journey. He and Puff cavort in the Sunshine State’s skies and splash in its inland waters. Richard does all the practical things seasoned aviators must do before embarking on an adventure across the land, purchasing essential items and getting Puff all gussied up for her big dance.
Richard Bach, the storyteller, has always been a master at word pictures. Because of this, he could have told Puff’s tale in words alone and it would have been a magnificent work. But, just as Russell Munson’s images of flight brought Jonathan to life in the pages of his book, another wayfarer's lens shows us Puff in all her sojourner’s finery.
A fellow aviator, Dan Nickens, a man with a passion not only for flight and for adventure, but also for geology, joins Bach on the journey, capturing in photos what Bach paints in words. The marriage of words and images makes the magnificent even more glorious.
Nickens’ own SeaRey, Jennifer, becomes a comfortable friend for Puff on the cross-country double date, and as the photographer sees the country and life through Bach’s eyes, Bach discovers wonders of the earth’s surface visible only through the lens of someone with Nickens’ loves.
In “Travels with Puff,” the seasoned reader of Bach's work will see reminders of his earlier stories—a bit of Jonathan Livingston Seagull, glimpses of the iconic feather from “Illusions,” reminders of his Ferret Chronicles, images first shared by little Dickie in “Running from Safety,” and more.
In this work, Bach also weaves morsels that pay tribute to books that drew him in years ago and warm his heart still today—Kenneth Grahame’s “Wind in the Willows,” L. Frank Baum’s Oz books, the work of Mark Twain. It’s a nice touch.
Nothing on the dust jacket says, "Only read this if an experienced lover of Bach's books," just as nothing warns, "Beware, at the end of this book, you'll be in love, too—with the words on these pages and the freedom of flight." The first warning is unnecessary, as this book is sure to draw new readers. The second warning, I am certain, holds true.
Richard Bach hasn't lost the ability he has to pull us in on the very first page, take us flying toward his dreams and our own, and inspire us to find our passion and pursue it with the same child heart he shows us each time he puts words on paper.
As did Jonathan and Puff, with his latest book, Richard Bach does soar. And, as he did with each of his earlier books, Bach still draws me in, entertains me, and inspires me.
“Travels with Puff” is published by Nice Tiger and available through major online booksellers.
© Ann Tracy Mueller 2013