Go fly a kite

Mar 29 2013 - 12:41pm

In our nearby park we expect much activity soon with the snow melted and warmer temperatures here-soccer and baseball on the ground and kites and model airplanes in the sky. I can't wait to hear the noise of people enjoying the outdoors again. Some of the fun derives from ancient history. Did you know the activity of kite flying is almost 3,000 years old? And utilitarian, too. Chinese philosophers in the fifth century B.C. needing to send a message for a rescue mission used a kite-like apparatus to convey their plan. 

Through time the soaring kite's proclivities have brought about other practical uses. Some say the Wright brothers' plane was inspired by a kite's ability to lift something into the air. I can imagine their parents, tired of the tinkering going on in the barn, told the boys to, "Go fly a kite!" Instead, they invented an aeroplane.

Currently scientists have employ kites for various studies-carrying antennas into the atmosphere to broadcast messages, moving light sticks or battery powered lights through the sky, and calculating temperatures in the atmosphere .

I recently read a book about early explorers of the Arctic who used a large balloon, propelled by air currents to try to find the north pole. Their writings include their wonder at what they saw. Though this group's efforts ended tragically, others have been more successful.

One of the most exciting movies I've seen was "The Kite Runner" which beautifully portrayed the excitement of dueling kites against the blue skies of Afghanistan. Though the story was marred by the sad events which befell the characters, kite running remains a popular sport there and in many countries.

Before April 1956 children may have been frustrated at their kites catching in trees, but Charles Schulz's "Peanuts" comic strip that month explained it all. The kites are victims of kite-eating trees such as the one which regularly caught Charlie's kites in its branches, gulping them down. (Charlie could hear the tree munch). It also ate chicken and spit out the bones, and once even ate a piano.

Fed up, Charlie threatened the kite-eating tree that if it took a bite out of his kite, he would bite it. It did and he did. But he got in trouble with the Environmental Protection Agency for doing it.

So what about kites in Utah? With a little on-line research regarding Top of Utah kite lore, I found the Ogden Standard-Examiner published directions in 1903 for making a small kite with crinkled paper for a tail and included a roughly drawn example. While admitting to the fun of kite flying, the Davis County Clipper reported in 1934 and again in 1961 a warning from Utah Power and Light Company to beware of power lines. If kite strings got tangled in the lines they were not to try and retrieve them because of the danger of coming in contact with live wires. Guidelines for youth were to only fly kites where there was plenty of open space, and never near electric wires and poles. "Don't use metal or wire in building a kite," warned another article -- only dry cotton string. And darting across streets to get the kite in the air, or climbing poles to retrieve kites was equally dangerous. Better to call the power company for help. The articles didn't say anything about trees.

A little different approach came from the Davis County paper in 1975. It compared the danger of flying kites with flying skirts. The article didn't elaborate, which is just as well.

An old-timer, expounding on children's play things said, "Take for instance, kites. You see these kites the boys are flying are made of cloth, box shaped with and without tails?" He observed the difference between "house' kites and "cod-fish" kites of his youth. Remembering the work that went into making his kite, he said he and his friends whittled their own kite sticks, made the paste to construct the kite from flour and water cooked on the stove by their mothers. When the kite was ready for a tail, those same mothers gave them "a nice piece of old cotton cloth" to use. "My, what a change now from the old-time kites."

I suspect that old-timer might be even more amazed at the commercial kites of today with their bright shapes and interesting decor. Power kites sail water craft; there is kite buggying, kite land boarding, kite boating and kite surfing-even snow kiting. I wonder if people 3,000 years ago foresaw the kites' popularity and utility? So mothers and fathers, if the kids get wild in the house send them out to fly a kite. You never know what they might come up with.


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