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Up where the air is clear

Your Humble Blogger likes to fly kites. I haven’t really written about it here in this Tohu Bohu, but for the last few years, whenever the weather is nice, I take a kite out for a bit during my lunch hour.

I work on a college campus, so there are occasionally Young Persons playing Frisbee or catch, or just lying on the grass catching the rays of the sun. The other day, there was another kite-flyer—the first I have seen here—and of course I immediately fouled her string. Not a big deal. We untangled and sent ’em up again. It was nice to see someone else with a kite string.

I gather the impression that people find kite-flying intimidating, something that is difficult to learn to do. I assure you, Gentle Reader, it is not. There is advanced skill to pick up, after a bit, but for the most part, it’s a kite and a string and a bit of breeze. Also to some extent there’s the equipment factor—if you don’t have a kite, you can’t fly a kite, and while kites are scarcely difficult or expensive to purchase, still at the moment when there is a nice day and an open field, you either have one in your possession or you do not. I make sure that I do.

Today was a almost perfect day, to my own particular taste: sunny and mild, with a light and inconsistent breeze. I’d slightly prefer some clouds, so I don’t have to squint, but this was awfully good. Also, truly perfect kite-flying weather is less interesting. If you get a good stiff wind in one consistent direction, it’s perfect kite-flying weather, so you let go of the kite, you hang on to the string. Eventually, you haul it back in. It’s pretty, mind you, a kite way up there in the sky. Not bad, not bad at all. But a little boring. Give me a day with a light and inconsistent breeze, and then…

First of all, there’s the waiting. You stand on the hill, holding the kite, limp on its string, listening and feeling for the breeze to kick up a little bit. Waiting for the kite to wiggle in your hand. It’ll take a minute or two. You’ll watch the trees for movement in the branches. From my spot, I watch the campus flags (University, State and National) for telltale flutters. Possibly I walk in a slow circle to see if the air feels differently on my face from a different angle. Honestly, that part of it, five minutes of just standing on in the grass focusing my attention on the air, is worth getting the kite out for, even if I don’t get the thing airborne.

With luck, though, a bit of wind kicks up, and off and up goes the kite. The string has to go out fast, but not evenly—it depends on the kite, of course, but most of my kites need to be reined in a bit to gain height, and then let out when the tension pulls again. The light wind will probably try to push the kite away, but you’ll want it up, to try to catch something above the height of the trees and the buildings. It may not happen on the first try; likely enough it’ll go five feet up and fifteen sideways and then drift to the ground, and you will walk over and wind up the string and start again. Not so terrible. Then more waiting, and then maybe, again, with a little bit of luck, another bit of wind kicks up and off and up goes the kite.

Once you get the thing up a good ways, you’ve got some activity. As it goes up, it will move out of one stream of air and into another, changing directions, drifting. As the tension goes, you reel the string back in, perhaps sharply to try to jerk the kite up into another stream, or perhaps in long steady pulls, to bring the kite further down and bring the tension back. Winding up the string a bit as you go. And then when it gets a good pull again, letting it out, smoothly. I have tried some of the fancier spools, but I find I’m happiest with the old-fashioned two handled kind. Of course, I’m not using a fancy kite. Since I like flying in hillside breezes rather than shoreline gales, I’m not using the more serious kites, and I haven’t invested in two-string kites for doing tricks (or battles). Just an ordinary spool without a crank. Good for the wrists, I suppose. When the kite is properly up, I like to be always either letting out string or reeling in string; this may be good technique or I may be just too fidgety to let the wind do the work.

Gentle Readers may have noticed that I’m not writing about Isaiah this year, during these Days of Awe. I haven’t put together any sort of essay for these days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. I haven’t had any particular thoughts about it. I generally find my piety in the Scripture rather than in Nature—I mean, nothing against Nature, which is awe-inspiring and whatnot, but Your Humble Blogger feels closest to the Divine when studying a text, not when contemplating a sunset. I choose to spend my time indoors, most often. We read in Pirke Avot 3:9:

Rabbi Jacob said: If a man was walking by the way and studying and he ceased his study and said, ’How fine is this tree!’ or ’How fine is this ploughed field!’ the Scripture reckons it to him as though he was guilty against his own soul.

Which, you know, is just a little bit crazy, honestly, but does somewhat suit my own inclination. Why the kite-flying then?

I can’t say. I do love the preposterous physics of it: I have a toy that’s pretty much a sheet of nylon and two sticks, which I control by means of this fifty-foot-long string leading up into the sky. I honestly like being the guy who flies kites at lunchtime, and I hope I make a few people smile when they see the kite. I think, also, that I like the kind of focus and attention it requires, which is very different than the other kinds of things I do. A thing to pay attention to that isn’t work, isn’t family, isn’t terribly important or interesting, that has no consequences. Just the movement of the air.

I hope, perhaps, in the coming year to return to Scripture study, either to pick up where I left off in the second chapter of Ezekiel or to begin some new project. Perhaps I stopped to say How fine is this breeze! and will return to studying. I don’t feel comfortable promising it (kol nidre, all my vows, something to that) but I will say out loud that I hope to. I am waiting for the wind to catch, and if it doesn’t happen, well, the waiting is good, too.

As I’m waiting, I’ll wish you and all of us a good year, a happy year, a healthy year. A year of reconciliation and redemption and reclamation; a year of peace and joy and love; a year of growth and birth and hope. Shana Tovah, y’all. Go fly a kite.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,
-Vardibidian.

Comments

I definitely tend to think of "the kite hit the ground" as meaning "failure", and it'd be interesting to try not doing that. :^)

I like a good stiff wind in one consistent direction because then I can fly my two-line kites, which I don't know how to do *tricks* with per se, but I love steering them around, up and down and back and forth and loops and figure eights and stuff. And to the extent that I want to amuse and delight people, that stuff is way more amusing and delightful than watching me pick my kite up off the ground and try again for a few minutes, repeatedly.

But I like the idea of changing my thinking about the "failures".


I suspect that two-stringed kites are a very different proposition all around. I haven't tried them (yet) but it does kinda seem, from what I've watched, that they are more serious (in some unclear sense of that word) toys. They are clearly awesome, and I may yet decide I want to take 'em up, but I can't really imagine just taking one out for ten minutes of my lunch hour.

As for 'failure', well, I dunno. Mostly when I take a kite out on my lunch hour, my goal is generally to be in a better mood in the afternoon than I would have been had I stayed in the staff lounge getting NYT ink on my hands. I sometimes fail at that, but it's not usually because the kite hit the ground.

Thanks,
-V.


Nice post.

Last time I was involved with a kite was a few months ago, when a 9-year-old I knew was flying one by the shore of a lake, and the wind unexpectedly fell, and the kite ended up twenty or thirty feet up on the far side of a tree—with the kite string draped over the top of the tree. We eventually got the kite down, but it sadly did not make me more interested in kiting.

...Your discussion of looking for the wind sounds a lot like what the hang-gliding teacher told us we should be doing when preparing to take off in a hang glider. I wasn't very good at it in my one lesson, though.


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