A Beautiful Parachute

by Jack Dowling, Advancement Director

SkydivingOn my last birthday my wife, Lisa, told me she had made reservations for me and our son, Ivan, to go skydiving. She wasn’t trying to get rid of me, she knew it was an item that had long been on my bucket list.

On a chilly Saturday in November we drove up to NorCal Skydiving in Cloverdale and after watching a cautionary video and signing a small booklet of release forms, we were ready to meet our instructors. Tony and Carson kept the conversation light and encouraging while they geared us up with jumpsuits, harnesses and goggles and then guided us to the plane.

The four of us wedged ourselves in behind the pilot and then headed down the runway. The small, one-engine plane slowly flew south down the Alexander Valley. As we gained altitude over Healdsburg, I could see the hills to the west of The Bishop’s Ranch and noted how the different valleys and watersheds connected with each other. We banked and came back north to get to the 12,000 foot jump altitude. I could see snow on the tall mountains that make up the Mayacamas range, and glimpse Clear Lake and the flat plain of the central valley.

When we got to the jump area, Carson asked if I was ready and I gave him the thumbs up signal then climbed onto his lap as instructed so he could attach our harnesses. He opened the door and we swung our legs out into the open world below us. The view was breathtaking and my heart was beating faster.

We leaned forward and fell away from the plane. The first sensation was shocking cold, like diving into an alpine lake, since we had lost about 21 degrees in the long climb. Next came the exhilarating rush of adrenaline as we plummeted towards the ground. The rushing air, as we fell 200 feet per second, made it hard to get a good breath, but I remembered the instructions and just took slow calm breaths so I could enjoy the experience.

It felt like we were in freefall much longer than the typical 60 seconds before Carson deployed the parachute. The big yellow canopy opened and we slowed down to enjoy the view over the next four or five minutes. Carson brought us in for a pretty soft landing and I looked up to see Ivan making his descent with Tony. It was an amazing experience that I will never forget.

I have been thinking about that day a lot over the past few months. It feels like the Ranch is going through a parallel experience as we navigate this highly unusual year.

There was the period when we knew the coronavirus was coming: we read all the warnings and planned for how we would react, letting the gravity of the situation sink in. When the initial shelter in place order came, we thought it would be for a short while, and we used the time to discover things about the Ranch. We heard the birds in new ways and experienced the deep quiet of the chapel. We had fun walking out with the cows and taking tours of little visited spaces.

We used social media to connect with people and when we asked, they told us what was important for them to see in our social media posts. The chapel was high on the list, as were the views of the valley. We got requests for the Peace Pole and the Labyrinth, confirming that the Ranch holds deep meaning for so many people.

Then it came time for the leap. It became clear that we would not be able to operate normally for a long time. That was frightening and took our breath away and made us wonder if we would survive. Then the parachute opened.

Ours is a big beautiful parachute, made up of large and small multi-colored swatches. It is the charitable contributions of so many that love the Ranch and wish to see it succeed. Our descent was slowed long enough for us to navigate the Payroll Protection Plan and keep our focus on the future.

New challenges have arisen. The pandemic continues to make it difficult to host guests in a sustainable way. Fire season has come months early and sidetracked our attempts to provide some weekend hospitality. Our parachute is being tested.
You can help us grow this beautiful parachute. There is room for more colorful swatches in different sizes. Your support will gently bring the Ranch to stable ground, ensuring we can continue the good work we have done together for over 70 years.