If I Were a Kite

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Swallow-tailed Kite, Photo: Kelly Dean

If I Were a Kite

By Kelly Dean

Almost every year up until I was about twelve years old, I received a kite from my parents as a March birthday present. Not only was it an appropriate gift for that windy time of year, but it kept me occupied for hours in the Ozarks farm fields behind our little house.

I prided myself on how high or how far I could get that paper-covered, wood-framed contraption to go. This required lots of string, a balanced tail made from my mom’s old apron, and lots of patience when it fell to earth in my neighbor’s field 100 yards away. It could take an hour winding up the string, lest I heard about it winding up around my dad’s brush hog blade instead.

In the wind, the kite was lean-looking — colored paper stretched tightly over a cross-shaped frame, like flesh stretched over a skinny man’s ribs.

Up close, you could hear the wind beat against the paper with a distinctive snapping and rattling sound, like my dad reading the Sunday newspaper. That sound always made me fear it would tear away at any second. And it often did.

The kite’s soaring, zipping and swooping on a short string made me lapse into boyish fantasy. I’d think about what a fighter pilot must feel like, or what it’s like to control a spaceship or what Ben Franklin thought on that stormy day. I could let my mind wonder; there were no chores on my birthday.

But most of all, I wondered what it would be like to be a bird of prey, cutting and twisting through the air, searching the ground for unsuspecting lizards, snakes and frogs — and what it must feel like to be that free and skillful. What a great life that would be. That’s what boys think about.

Now that I’m living in Florida, I’m too old to chase kites that break free in the wind. I’m too old to roll up endless string around a small piece of tomato stake. I’m too old to race against the wind to get my spaceship off the ground.

I have to experience my kite flying in other ways. In this case, as a bird — and in my mind.

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Swallow-tailed Kite, Photo: Kelly Dean

Watching the swallow-tailed kite refills my boyhood flying fantasies. For a few fleeting minutes they are in sight, searching around for prey high above the ground where I happen to be standing. When I see them, I am taken back to my kite flying days. And I think about the very same things I thought about then. I can stop and allow my mind to wonder. It is the closest I come to those old birthday memories.

If I were a bird, the swallow-tailed kite would be the one I’d like to be. It’s a true bird of prey, small in stature, like me. But unlike me, it’s handsome in its completely white and black suit. Its white under-parts are set against its own black shadow, looking like one bird carrying another, purposely outlining itself against a bright spring sky.

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The swallow-tailed kite is also known for its bravery when migrating around the Gulf of Mexico and into South America, braving storms and often perishing on this arduous, fateful journey, like a young traveler in an Irish ballad.

Yes, this is the bird I’d most like to be, because it represents everything I wanted to be back then, back when I could fly.

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