I saw a bumper sticker the other day that read, “A Leaf on the Wind, Wash is My Co-Pilot.” I love geek in-jokes, and I will often research ones that I don’t get. Having seen Serenity though, I got this one just fine. As much as I enjoyed it, I also chuckled that Wash’s landing quoted, however epic, was also his last. So perhaps the bumper sticker wasn’t quite as encouraging as it appears at first glance?
Sitting in traffic also gave me time to reminisce about the phrase Leaf on the Wind in general. Years ago I did flying lessons in a Piper Cub. The Cub was designed in the late 1920’s, and was built throughout the 1930’s. For several generations of pilots the Cub was the first plane they’d fly. It was a simple airplane and easy to fly. It is also a tail-dragger, so rudder control is incredibly important. (The Cub pictured below is my friend’s J5 Cub. It is slightly larger than the far more common J3 Cub. The J5’s were also typically painted orange instead of yellow.)
So one of the lessons we did was called a, “Falling Leaf.” It focused particularly on rudder by chopping power to where you were basically dropping, and you would control your direction solely with the rudder pedals. It sounds far more intense than it is, and is actually a pretty fun exercise. So I can’t help but think that, as much as Wash’s quote has Zen overtones, it is also evocative of flight lessons from the Golden Age of flight. I don’t know that Joss Whedon’s writing was quite so layered, but it was certainly rich enough to allow layers.