Mary Beth Writes

Kites  4/12/2023

I was an old teenager that spring; maybe 17 or 18. My dad had died a few years before so life was still often sad and challenging, but mom and I were okay; we were getting up in the morning and living our lives. We ate a lot of ice cream and sometimes we laughed. It’s interesting that the biggest life successes often don’t look like successes when they are happening. Right? You just keep going and months and years later you look back and realize how tough that really was and how amazing it is that you are still here and still kind.

Well, this essay is about kites.

There was a rolled-up kite by our back door, I don’t know where it came from. It was that made of that slightly waxy paper that kites were made of back then. The balsa wood struts were pinched together in the middle with one staple. You remember...

I was “too old” to fly a kite. Too old means I had plenty of homework, chores, and obligations; the last thing I needed was to waste more time. But wasting time has always been one of my strengths. (I’m still skilled at this.)

It was silky gray and windy day in early spring. I noticed the kite and decided to fly it. I made a tail of string and some ripped rags. Found a big ball of string somewhere and then went to our backyard and slowly let the kite go.

Oh friends, that moment you let a kite leave your hands as it begins to lift and as the string begins to slip upwards through your fingers... That moment is nearly as close to magic as when you realize you love someone, or your kid turns towards you with a smile, or you get to ride a bike down a hill on sunny day. That moment is everything delicious about being human.

The wind was steady. No matter how much string I let out, that kite kept sailing. Over the field, close to the river, over the river and it just kept going. It made it almost to the woods on the other side of the little Lincoln River, which (Len just helped me figure this out on MapQuest) is almost a third mile! It didn’t go high, it didn’t dive to the ground, it just kept sailing south.

I can see it flying away from me right now; that image stayed in me all these years.

And then, because no good adventure goes unsullied, my mom came around the house to tell me supper was on the table. She looked at the kite and looked at me and asked the obvious question, “How are you going to pull that thing all the way back here?”

At first I tried wrapping the string back into a ball, but it was too slow. I started walking back and forth across the yard, laying the string down across the length of the lawn, creating a giant electrocardiogram. I guess I rolled it up later.

..

My next kite memory is shorter. A couple years ago I asked Len to pick up a kite for us while he was out running errands. It seemed like the kind of equipment one ought to have in a car if one has grandkids. What if we came across a field on a breezy day and we didn’t have a kite?

He came home with a kite that amazed me. I visualized a plastic $4 kite from Walgreens. He’d gone to some fancy place and bought a $30 flamingo kite!

We drove to Aztalan State Park along the Crawfish River. (More about Aztalan here.) It's a preserved site, with mounds, that was a Middle-Mississippian village from 1000 to 1300 A.D.

We assembled the kite (the tail is its skinny pink legs!) and let her fly. The kite shot up into the sky and right then, a vee of migrating snow geese flew over; big white birds flapping long white wings tipped in black. They were so beautiful and loud and I swear, watching my flamingo and those geese in the same moment and the same place was better than winning any lottery.

 ...

Spring is here. Time for crocuses, seductively balmy days, the lascivious sensation of air on our naked arms. Also, time for religious holidays piggybacking on ancient celebrations about surviving another winter plus the need and urge to be as fecund as possible when oldsters are not looking. I don’t think the original maypole dances were about the flower garlands as much as they were about the pole, you know?

But of course, soon powers-that-be turned the recklessness of spring into special events centered around reckoning sins and believing that one needs forgiveness, not from the people we harmed, but from invisible gods. Then commemorating this with sacrifices. Boom, now we have power, guilt, and an obligation to rejoice in our sanctimony while the women cook up a feast.

Possibly I’m jaded. I’ve walked into a city church on an Easter morning to musicians trumpeting Bach on brass horns. I sewed matching pick flowered dresses for my girls when they were little and figured out how to make a little matching tie for our son. I have gained two pounds in one day on asparagus, chocolate, and peeps.

But for spiritualty one can feel down to one’s toes, I recommend a kite. Wait for a breezy day. Set your obligations aside for a few hours. Go to a wide-open field far from electric lines. Go with someone you love, or with kids, or by yourself. Pull your kite from the back of your car, tie on the string and then unfurl it. Jog a little until it catches and then let your spirit and sorrows and preoccupations slip up that string and let the kite diffuse them high and wide.

..

A kite flies because it pulls against that string that tethers it. But if you let go of the string to let the kite fly free – it fails and spins and falls and crashes. Strange metaphor. Being tethered seems to be the way to fly.

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Leonard's picture

Kites are a great hands-on way to find your inner snow goose. There are about a zillion sites on the web with directions and info. "Scout Life" (formerly Boys Life) has the basics: https://scoutlife.org/hobbies-projects/projects/158136/how-to-make-a-classic-diamond-shaped-kite/ Something called the American Kitefliers Association has some more intricate plans: https://www.kite.org/about-kites/kite-plans/ And NASA for the win with using kites as an introduction to the principles of aerodynamics (the Wright Brothers worked out all the details for their Flyer with a series of kites): https://www.grc.nasa.gov/www/k-12/airplane/kite1.html

Kites bring up lovely memories and thoughts of spring and summer winds.

I once threw a pentecost party at the beach where all we did was fly kites, and eat fruit. There were about 10 from the 99 cent store and one beautiful rainbow dragon. All the people riding bikes or jogging on the boardwalk stopped to look for a bit.

Thanks for resurrecting the memory of reeling in the kite that seemed a mile away. I thought about all of the twine/string that had to be re-wound around my paint stirring stick/piece of wood from Dad's supply. Good times.

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