Having climbed into a weird steel and leather seat I take the reins of a giant mechanical heron and as its wings extend to almost touch either side of the enormous warehouse which has become the gallery for the heron tree project it takes flight. A rush of exhilaration and freedom sweep over me and as it rises towards the roof it feels as if it will break free and soar into the sky. I remember the bareback riders in the fantasy series of Dinatopia and although my mount is mechanical and their rides were prehistoric reptiles I can speculate on the rush of adrenalin they would experience. Then after a brief moment or two it returns to the ground and its mechanical wings fold and I climb down.
All around plans and detailed drawings festoon the walls. Other giant mechanical bugs and insects stare from every corner while a flying machine resembling an early aircraft sits behind an enormous fan which performs as a flight simulator. If this was not the twenty first century you would certainly think you were in the workshop of Leonardo de Vinci as he experimented and strove to discover the freedom of flight.
Actually this is the zany gallery in France at Nantes’ machine de L’ile were a group of talented and passionate devotees under the guidance of two mad inventors Francois Delaroziere and Pierre Orefice work on a project that when complete will be mind boggling. They are creating a heron tree made from metal and when finished it will stand over 35 metres tall. Within it will be walkways, platforms and all manner of surprises including many of the mechanical creatures which stare at you from every corner. It will unite the mechanical world with the natural wonders of nature and will be festooned with plants. At the top will be two great platforms from which the mechanical herons will fly. To help visualisation a model, one tenth the finished size, is on display. Even now you can walk on one of the prototype branches which soars over the cafe and besides the gallery you can watch the work as it goes ahead in the workshop.
To date other mechanical wonders draw thousands of visitors. The most talked about being a giant mechanical elephant which trumpets and with ears flapping transports 50 visitors at a time to a giant carousel inspired by Jules Verne and filled with other mechanical creatures from the deep. I reflect that without Leonardo and all those who strove to make flight and the freedom of the skies a reality my own plane flight to the heron and these other mechanical wonders would not have been possible.
About the Author: Janet Myers: After a varied and enjoyable working life spent in education, the craft and tourist industry with periods of graphic design and magazine editing I am now retired and enjoy photography, art and community activities in which I play an active part. I enjoy travel but suffer at the moment with hip problems but find this does not need to be a handicap and I have written several articles for disability magazines about travel from their prospective. Today no one needs to be excluded from discovering the experiences that the planet has to offer.