Seven a.m. on a winter morning, I’ve come into the room I reserve for my writing and sit down. Merging with the quiet of the house, I settle into that space where the heart and head start to dance in the mystery of creative togetherness. I begin to hear a faint noise; my body tenses a little as the sound penetrates the silence and grows louder. A familiar beat resonates through my nerves. Within seconds I am there, one with the source of the sound. I smile and think of the many times I have been there. Been the one generating the energy, which creates the vibration, that becomes the sound. Turning and looking out my east-facing window, I see it. Silhouetted against the morning light, a high-wing Cessna 206, operated by Penobscot Island Air, loaded with mail, is departing for the islands. I watch as it turns east and is absorbed into the morning sky.

Vivid pictures form in my mind. For two decades I’ve been associated with the flying service and all it entails. Twenty years, with thousands of hours in the air and on the ground, have created a deep emotional bond with Penobscot Bay and the islands it tenderly embraces. Yet with all those years and all those hours, starting the day flying the mail is an activity I never tire of.

It’s early morning, well before the sun will rise over the bay. Two things are happening simultaneously. A truck, coming from Portland loaded with the mail, is pulling into the Rockland Post Office and two pilots who will be flying that mail are getting ready to go to work. I am one of those pilots and for me there couldn’t be a better way to begin the day.

Six a.m., the folks at the post office have sorted, weighed and placed the mail into canvas carts labeled Vinalhaven, North Haven and Matinicus, the three islands to which Penobscot Air flies the mail. I arrive at our base of operations at the airport, along with Jim the office manager and dispatcher, David, who picks up the mail, and Steve my fellow pilot for the day. We exchange morning greetings and I ask Steve, “Have you looked at the forecast for the day?”

“Yeh, looks like it’ll be good all day,” he says.

“How about the winds at the buoy?” (Matinicus Rock) I ask.

“Light, out of the south,” he replies.

“I’m off to get the mail,” David says as he walks out the door.

“No passengers going this morning,” Jim reports, looking at the schedule book.

Steve and I complete the preflight of our planes. Satisfied the engine, wings, tail, fuselage, landing gear, fuel and oil are as they should be, we wait for the van to arrive. In this quiet moment of waiting, I look with delight and respect at the powerful Cessna 206, with its three bladed propeller, over sized tires and a few nicks and scars, sitting proudly in the glow of the early morning light.

The van carrying the mail pulls in. It has twice the interior space of the plane and is carrying hundreds of pounds of boxes, bulging canvas sacks, bundles of newspapers, magazines, plastic tubs of prescription drugs, trays of letters, boxes of Netflix movies, large envelopes of medical X-rays, pallets of newly issued phone books, crates of baby chicks, and who knows what else. By some mysterious law of physics, all this stuff will compress from the van into the smaller space of the plane. In the brutal cold of winter I remember how nice it is to do all this in shorts and a polo shirt. In summer I’m glad it’s not winter.

Finding one remaining crevice, I fit the last package in, close and lock the back cargo doors, and take a deep breath of satisfaction.

The winter winds that can swoop down out of Canada with ferocious intent are on this day gentle and soft. I climb into the only remaining space left vacant, the pilot’s seat. Buckle the belt, close the door, and take a moment to blend into the rhythm of the day. With body and spirit now working as one, I begin the starting process. Master switch on, magnetos hot, a shot of priming fuel, starter engaged and the hardy Continental engine plays the first bars of a powerful symphony.

The interior is cold; I watch my breath form a silvery mist on the windshield, turning the outside world into a muted gray. Adding a little power, the plane begins to move. The nose rides high as the weight in the rear forces the tail low to the ground. It will take several minutes to do the engine checks; while this is happening, warming air will finally start flowing around my body and life will be good. Needles on the engine gauges are starting to move into the green portions of the dials. This is the engine’s way of telling me that it’s ready and willing to lift 3,600 pounds of metal, mail and man into the waiting sky.

Knox County Regional Airport is an uncontrolled field, meaning it has no control tower to direct traffic. Radio calls are made as a courtesy to assist in the safe flow of aircraft movement. I announce that N910TA will be taxiing from the main ramp, to the end of runway 31 (runway numbers correspond to their magnetic heading on a compass). Taxiing along I look down and watch early morning frost peel off the rubber tires as they roll across the blacktop surface. Reaching the end of the runway, I line up on the center line, glance at the instruments for a final verification that all is ready, make a call on the radio, then slowly push the throttle to its full forward position.

Technology has supplied me with the finest and most modern noise canceling headsets and yet in the cold morning temperatures the tips of the propellers bite into the frigid air with stinging intensity. Painful vibrations momentarily pierce through the cups of the headsets until I adjust the power to a more comfortable level.

Five thousand feet of runway lie ahead, but it will take 910TA only 700 of those feet to make the transition from a heavy laden, awkward land machine, into a graceful ballerina, ready to dance in the morning air.

At 1,000 feet I make a left turn to the east, directly into the heart of the rising sun. Penobscot Bay, now the canvas for pink and gold light rays, shimmers and sparkles like a giant tub of shifting diamonds. On some mornings when the temperature dips well below zero, this same bay will be blanketed in the softness of sea smoke — that vapory mist formed by the difference in temperature between water and air.

Three thousand feet will be sufficient to transit the 11 miles between the mainland and the west shore of Vinalhaven. From this altitude the islands show their abstract shapes, the result of the masterful hand of that geological artist, the moving glacier. The three newly constructed wind turbines on Vinalhaven come into view penetrating the sky like an eerie scene from the crucifixion. Crossing Leadbetter Island, I head for the Basin, a large pond, filled and emptied twice a day by the gushing waters of the changing tide. From over the Basin the descent for landing begins. Rocky ledges of abandoned granite quarries pass under my wings. I bank the 206 and line up with the sand and gravel surface of the runway. The sun is higher and behind me now I can see a white van waiting at the far end of the runway ready to receive the incoming mail; 910TA configured for landing, sheds its remaining altitude and softly mates with its shadow on the waiting runway.

Peter Jones and his wife, Ethel, have been meeting the morning and evening mail plane since the eighties. Even on the coldest days, I’ve never known Peter to wear a pair of gloves. He’s always sticking his hands into and pulling them out of his pockets in the several seconds it takes to hand him another piece of mail.

Waves of frosty air convey our morning greetings to each other.

“Good morning, Peter.”

“Good morning, Mike. Tail’s awful low, must have a lot of it today.”

“I’ll say, about 800 pounds, mostly the new phone books.”

Peter, sticking his hands in his pockets, groans a little.

“I thought maybe so.”

“Did you watch the game yesterday?”

“Yeh, I’m not sure about the Patriots this year; Brady don’t seem quite right.”

“I know what you mean, looks like he might still be hurting.”

Peter takes his hands out of his pockets, squints into the morning sun, gives a slight grin and says, “Well Mike, just think in two months we can start worrying about the Red Sox.”

“Don’t even mention it,” I say.

It takes about 15 minutes to make the transfer of mail from plane to van but in those 15 minutes of unloading and chatting, I experience a snapshot of island life through the lens of Peter Jones.

I get back into the plane; a gaping cavity is evident where the Vinalhaven mail once rested. This absence of weight along with a developing breeze propels Tango Alpha smartly into the air for the next leg of my journey. I climb over the leafless trees and reduce power to cruise. Swinging a little wider than usual, I cross over the harbor. Looking down on the fleet of sturdy fishing boats congregated there, I know my craft is of a similar breed, hardworking and dependable. A true friend and like the boats, it operates in an element that at times can be very unpredictable.

We fly to seven different islands in the bay, each having its own character and personality. My next stop — North Haven.

North Haven is separated from Vinalhaven by the Fox Island Thorofare, a winding channel of water, perhaps a mile to a mile and a half at its widest point. But that short distance separates two completely distinct geologies. Vinalhaven is strong like an ox, mostly wooded, with a backbone of solid granite. North Haven is wispy and gentle as a summer day with open meadows flowing gracefully into the surrounding sea. North Haven has two airfields. One, a 900 foot patch of grass and gravel hidden among tall trees, bordered by a busy road at its south end. It requires great skill and finesse to negotiate successfully and is limited to smaller loads. It’s used only in the summer. The other, 3,000 feet of luxurious grass complete with lights for night landings, is privately owned and only available in the winter months.

One thousand feet of altitude will be sufficient to make the short trip from the granite ox to the summer maiden. Crossing the Thorofare, I pass over the town of North Haven, flying a course that takes me between the newly completed school and lovely Pulpit Harbor. Looking down, the smaller tree-enclosed airstrip comes into view. I feel a rush of excitement as I dream of summer, when to my delight there will be the opportunity to skim close to those tree tops, carefully watching airspeed and altitude, touching down slowly, while flashing yellow lights on the roadway at the far end signal a warning to passing cars that a plane is landing.

North Haven provides a pleasant and peaceful break in a day filled with constant motion. Aside from my home base of Owls Head, this will be the longest runway I’ll fly into all day. It gives me a chance to play. Letting engine and wing work together, I enjoy gliding down the length of the runway, floating a few feet above the surface until just before the unloading spot where the wheels say hello to the ground and I drift to a happy halt.

Jimmy Brown’s house is about 100 yards from the airfield. Jimmy is the former caretaker of the property. In his front yard is parked a Penobscot Island Air van. The walk down the road to get the van is a pleasant experience. Strolling along, I like to look at the shapes of the snowbanks, sculpted by the blade of a snowplow, listen to the sounds of winter birds darting from tree to tree, give the mandatory wave to the occasional passing car (on North Haven everyone waves), and the biggest treat of all, enjoy aroma therapy. In winter, coming from Jimmy’s chimney, there’s always some pleasant fragrance filling the air that’s soothing to the soul and lifting to the spirits.

Unlike Vinalhaven where the mail is picked up from the plane, I will become the delivery person on North Haven. I bring the van up, load the remaining mail and start the drive to town.

I love to meander along, opening my heart to the beauty of tidal coves, where groves of trees huddle on the sloping banks of meadows that melt gently into the water. Well kept houses, large and small, sitting at various angles to the ever-present sea. Little wooden bridges that transport me over inland streams, flowing in peace to their waiting mother.

At the end of the route, in the center of town, at the bottom of a steep hill, will be Teresa, the postmaster. When I pull up in the van, she opens the side door of the post office, gives me a cheery “Good morning Mike,” hands me the magic broom used to prop open the van door, and takes the heavy sacks of mail, all the while with a smile as charming as the island itself.

“Good morning Teresa, ready for this year’s phone books?”

“I guess so.”

“I have some UPS packages for the Flowers family. Do you know if they’re still here?”

Setting a stack of plastic wrapped phone books on the floor, she turns and says, “Tom, their caretaker was here a little while ago and said they just left on the early morning boat. He’s probably still in town if you want to catch him.”

“Thanks, I might.”

Like Peter on Vinalhaven, Teresa’s words will paint a quick picture of island life, which I’ll frame and hang in the gallery of my mind.

I leave the post office, take the one-way street that curves back around to meet the south shore road and drive back to Jimmy’s. I’m sure behind the doors of those lovely houses I pass, life has its challenges. But for me North Haven is a gem whose light glows bright in a sometimes-dark world. I tuck the van between the bushes in Jimmy’s yard, stroll back up the road to the now empty plane, inhale deeply one more time and begin the 11-mile trip back to the mainland.

Airborne and heading west, I look out at the panorama of the bay and all the features that give it its unique identity, the network of islands that stretch from Searsport to Monhegan. The fishermen on their bobbing work boats who, like me, will sway to the rhythms of the bay as the day unfolds, to the ferries that navigate through rain, fog and wind, linking the islands to the mainland. Missing are the pleasure sailors and commercial schooners. They will not be here until the first warm winds of summer arrive to fill their sails. Looking over my shoulder to the south I see Steve heading to Matinicus, carrying that island’s mail and probably a full load of groceries.

This morning I have flown overseas to two island kingdoms where no passport is required, knowing, in this changing world of e-mail, Fed-Ex and UPS, the U.S. mail is still a vital part of people’s lives and I have the good fortune of starting my day delivering it behind the power of 300 aerial horses.

Michael Ball is a commercial pilot. He flies for Penobscot Island Air and lives in South Thomaston.