Parachute drop zones, by their very nature, are beautiful places. The Zen gardens of the adrenalin set. You have perhaps heard “trout only live in beautiful places?” The same goes for parachute centers. I hung out and did most of my jumping in Xenia, Ohio – “God’s country.” Place smelled like grass and stuff growing.
The town’s water tower was faded green and had prominent black letters across the side: XENIA. This was helpful to low-flying aircraft; you could look out the window and figure out where you were. That’s typical of farm country. The runway was grass, and so was the parking area. You can never have too much grass at a drop zone.
Blue sky made up half the universe in Xenia and green the other. There were very few power lines or telephone poles, and fence lines were easily seen from above. Corn fields are very common, and not parachute-friendly like low, soft soy fields. The corn fields you learn to recognize from the air, and avoid after mid-July. Imagine untangling parachute lines from corn towering over your head! There is also a learning curve to cows; the first time you land near one, you run. Everyone laughs because it’s probably scarier for the cow.
After the jump, you pick a nice soft grassy area to re-pack your chute. Packing a parachute quickly becomes routine, more autopilot than ritual. The only important part is to make sure it isn’t tangled when you start packing it. (Put garbage in, get garbage out-just like computers.) Almost all other packing sins are forgiven.
You are on your knees in the grass, folding the parachute. Perhaps surprisingly, you fold it with as little care as you would fold a tent, or an old tarp. There’s a saying: If you get too careful, the darn thing will never work. Next the folded parachute gets slid into a deployment bag. The deployment bag’s whole job is to slow down the opening. Too brisk of an opening will wring you out (think: cracking the whip). .
The suspension lines are then rubber banded, back and forth, across the outside of the bag, for an “orderly deployment” ( ie not coming out in a wad).
Now it’s time to put the parachute in the container.
This is sort of like putting an acre of nylon in a shoebox – easier said than done. There were two schools of thought on this; either strike it forcefully with your fist and attempt to jam it in (usually accompanied by colorful language), or, more artfully, fill every inch of the container. It is perhaps worth noting that you can’t hurt a parachute once it’s in the bag. Pound away.
When I first started parachuting, I weighed 125 pounds at the time, so I was all about leverage and technique. Brute force wasn’t even an option. I sometimes had to help the big guys close their containers – to my immense joy.
A freshly packed parachute is a thing of beauty. It is a very neat contraption that whispers “you can fly” to your inner superhero. A packed parachute is a promise, like a picnic lunch, or a $20 bill – good times ahead. Packing a parachute is a pleasant physical task that gives your arms a pump in the beautiful place where you’ve just landed. It becomes kind of a meditation. In your little corner of the universe, you get to tame the chaos and reverse the big bang – at least for a little while.