Saturday, we rose at 4 a.m. to take part in the Dawn Patrol, an annual tradition of the Great Reno Balloon Races. Huddled with thousands on an open field in the pre-dawn darkness, we watched as hot air balloons glowed in time to music pouring from loudspeakers.
It’s been over twenty years since I last watched this beautiful spectacle. In the intervening years, our family waited until the more civilized hour of 6 a.m. to watch hot air balloons slowly inflate and take to the air in a mass ascension. It was easier to drag small children from their beds with bribes of pancake breakfasts when the sun was already peeking over the mountains.
Now, my husband and I have to bribe each other with hot coffee and promises of an early brunch. We huddled in the chill morning air as one by one the glowing balloons took to the skies over our heads.
As the skies brightened above, I could see the faces of the crowds around us: young and old, locals and visitors, different races and nationalities. They wore clothes that kept them warm, hats and sweatshirts and jackets with slogans and team logos; some wrapped themselves in blankets to keep out the chill.
Then a balloon rose above us, hoisting the American flag into the sky, and a chorus sang the national anthem. Many placed hands over hearts but not all did; some sang, most stood, but all looked up as the flag rose higher and higher. No one was there to judge their neighbors, to argue political positions, to shame anyone for standing or not.
It was a beautiful sunrise.