HIGH FLIGHT The ageless attraction of kids to kites


We are now into that time of the year when one can earnestly tell others to "go fly a kite" and get away with it.

Traditionally, this is a simple, and simply childish, activity of youth. Which is probably just as well. When adults get hold of something as simple as kite flying, they just naturally want to set upon it with official rules and regulations and high-tech designer kites that need to be flown at certain heights under certain barometric conditions, with National Weather Service data figured in.

Left in children's hands, however, the flight of a kite is a simply wondrous thing. Recall for yourself how awesome it was to watch the gentle curve of the string ascend out of sight. Yet at the same time feel the pull of that itty-bitty paper diamond dancing in the blue beyond. Not a pulling away, mind you, but a collaborative effort of kite and flier to reach even higher heights.

As an exercise in cause and effect, you learn what a major effect a little jerk at one end can cause at the other. As well as all the emotions that come and go with it. Like the Angst and panic you feel as your kite takes a nose dive into the very top of the tallest tree in sight. And the elation, moments later, of seeing it climb back up and out again.

Often, the goal of a flying day was to see just how far out you could get a kite before you had to go in for supper. I remember playing out one ball of string, then standing on the end while tying on another, after another, after another. I subsequently remember standing on the hill long after dark, still reeling from the experience. Which, aside from my aching forearms, was pretty cool. Flying a kite at night is really a surreal experience (although that's not exactly how my father described it when I finally came home).

Other times, my friends and I spent the day on a shorter tether, holding aerial "dogfights." After two or three kites had reached a sufficiently similar height, we, the flight commanders, would race hTC about beneath them attempting to force our kites to nose dive into the other combatants. The ultimate victor, of course, was the one who could keep his kite in the sky while sending all others into a death spin to the terra firma below. Most often in the melee, however, two kites would entwine, burst into flames and come crashing to the ground.

Actually, that's not true. That's only the way we imagined it. In reality, the kites wouldn't burst into flames until after they came crashing to the ground and we set them on fire.

We set a whole field on fire like that one day. Took us most of the rest of the afternoon to stomp it all out. But it was either that or call in our parents.

When questioned later about the smell of our clothes and the condition of our soles, I think we lied and said we'd been smoking. Which, at the time, was more socially acceptable than setting brush fires. My, how times have changed.

Speaking of change, I remember buying kites for 19 cents at the nearest dime store. I recall it somewhat painfully because it makes me sound like those people who fondly recall when a loaf of bread was a nickel. Meaning it makes me feel ancient by inflationary standards.

So anyway, while a store-bought kite is swell, there is also something to be said for constructing your own. Namely that your kids will become way bored with the project and move on to computer games well before you've snapped even one dowel rod in half and had to make another trip to the hardware store.

Ultimately, the important thing is not what the kite is made of, but whether or not it flies. Once you get a kite "up there," you send a signal for all to see that there is someone "down here." Someone sending up a beacon, a beam, a symbol that says you may have your feet on the ground but your spirit inhabits the sky, as you dance on the breeze over houses and trees, with your fist holding tight to the string of your kite.

MICHAEL M. ASHCRAFT's last essay for the magazine was on a thwarted night out on the town.

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