March 2018: Tails in a hay bale

It’s been windy lately.

It’s March though, so go figure. Tumbleweeds pummel the side of the house and scamper across the highway in their yearly migration. Dust wreaks havoc with allergies, and trash collects in the fenced corner of the yard.

It’s like this every year. Always has been.

When I was a kid, I liked things that went up in the air. Mostly rockets. Sometimes planes. But kites interested me for a bit as well. When I was very young, my siblings and I tried to make kites out of construction paper and string. I don’t remember if we used anything else- just paper. And string.

They weren’t exactly sturdy. Or flight-worthy.

The “kites” were square, with kite-lines drawn on in crayon. I think we just taped the string on, expecting them to float loftily on the wind with a simple toss upwards.

(Toddler logic.)

They didn’t, of course. My memories aren’t very clear, but I think we choose an extremely windy day, and my paper square was ripped out of my hands fairly quickly, flying straight into the limbs of a tree, a victim of Charlie Brownian Motion.

A few weeks later, my mother found the kites- a bird had collect the leftover bits and used them in her nest. So not a complete loss.

When I was a few years older, I received a kite as a gift- a blue plastic triangle of a kite with yellow and black eyes near the peak, and a long solid black tail hanging below it.

By now at least I knew not to just let the kite go and hope for the best. Somehow, I managed to get it in the air from one of the fields below the house. I still didn’t really understand how to kite, I think, or else I just wanted to see how far it would go- because once the kite was flying at a sufficiently adequate altitude, I didn’t just hold it there and enjoy the peaceful beauty of basic science.

Instead, I fed it some string, held it and let the kite climb, then fed it some more string, etc. Soon, the kite could hardly be seen in the air. At one point, the tail detached, and I watched it slowly flutter through the air into one of the neighbor’s fields.

(I never found it again. It probably ended in a hay bale somewhere, like so many of the model rockets I made in my teen years, I’m sure. But I used it to make the title of the column. So not a complete loss.)

A massive spool of red string had been around in our household for as long as I could remember, and made its way into practically every craft project ever done. Of course, this is what I choose for my kite. By the time I could no longer clearly see the kite, there wasn’t much string left on the spool.

It was beginning to get dark, but I was stuck now. I wasn’t sure I was strong enough to pull the string back in. Letting go was obviously not a solution!

I could hear my mother calling me for dinner. Doggedly, I held to that faithful red string and slowly began to wind it back in, one small inch at a time. It got a little easier with each turn … but so much string had been used. Bringing the kite back to earth was taking far longer than getting it into the air.

My mother joined me in the field after wondering what was taking me so long, since I never missed a meal. She was astonished by how high the kite had gone, and with her help, we finally managed to retrieve the kite (and the heroic string!) before supper became too cold.

I don’t remember ever flying that kite again. If I did, it never flew as high as it had that very first time.

(Not sure what ended up happening to the string, either. It disappeared sometime in high school.)

Years later, as an adult in the Midwest, friends and I used to take advantage of the wind by flying kites as a group.

(We were young, and had more time on our hands to commit to activities with no real fulfillment, I guess.)

Some of the group really got into it, trying box kites and different unlikely contraptions. I think I got a cheap kite-and-string combo from the drug store, and brought it along to our weekly Saturday gathering.

We met at a local park, and I was one of the first to get my kite in the air. In fact, the kite skills of my youth were still with me, for once again, this kite quickly rose, higher and higher into the afternoon sky, majestically bobbing in the wind, stretching the length of the entire park, sailing far across even the soccer field where the local youth teams were having a match.

I proudly stood, carefully controlling my kite, striking a noble pose on a small hillock. Onlookers looked up, pointing out the kite to their neighbors. Soon, it (and I!) were the center of the crowd’s attention, such that when the wind suddenly died, no one missed seeing the kite forcefully plummet to the ground on the other side of the soccer field, far from me.

The kite string stretched from goal to goal. I began to wind it furiously, but this time, I didn’t have my mother to help. Like running in a dream, the faster I tried to go, the slower it seemed to take.

People began to boo. I wasn’t even playing in the game!

After an agonizing number of minutes, the coaches had the teams line up along the length of the string, and each kid helped lift and walk it to the side of the field. The game resumed as I reeled myself across the sidelines, red faced, quietly apologizing along the way.

That was probably two decades ago, and I’ve never sufficiently recovered to try to fly a kite again.

I think about it sometimes though. Flying a kite can be a remarkably calming and centering activity, when active soccer games aren’t involved. Sure, there’s no real point to it that may adequately satisfy my cynical middle-aged sensibilities … but why does there have to be?

Maybe it’s ok to just do it to do it. Maybe the point is that there isn’t a point, and there doesn’t have to be. Maybe the tumbleweeds have the right idea, and sometimes you just have to see where the wind will take you.

Because even if you end up plummeting to the earth (figuratively) or needing your mom to help reel it all back in (also … figuratively, I guess), for awhile at least, you’ll get to break free of the world and soar in the sky, with nothing to worry about but a square of paper and some string.

Every March the winds will blow.

May as well have a little fun with it, so it’s not a complete loss.

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2 comments
  1. kateorman said:

    Lovely.

    (Game called on account of kite.)

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