Winner of the English Language and Literature Division Creative Writing Competition - Creative Nonfiction

The wind had been gusty yesterday when my kite nearly dived into a woman walking the beach. Little puffs of wind sent it skittering across the sky, reeling and plunging like a mad bee toward the innocent beach walker. I yanked the line just in time to avoid collision—but not in time to keep a flush of embarrassment from turning my face the same red hue as my kite.

I was an adult. I should know better than to let my kite run wild. In fact, I should probably be doing more important things with my life than praying for a steady wind that would lift a slip of canvas into the sky and hold it suspended between heaven and earth. I should get off the beach and write emails and follow schedules and hit treadmills—all the important things that adults do in the twenty-first century.

My personal history of kite flying had never been a success story. It began when I was a child with a Winnie-the-Pooh kite that never managed to catch the breeze and ended up dry-rotting in the closet. Since then, windless days, crashed hopes, poorly designed kites, and one flustered beach walker summed up my kite equation to equal failure. But I kept trying. Call it a kite compulsion.

Thankfully, fewer people dotted the beach today, and the wind was steady. My kite tugged like a puppy on a leash. As I released string, it rose in the air—a red and yellow diamond-shaped kite with red and yellow streamers for the tail.

Cold wind from the north drove sand against my legs. Waves rolled back and forth over the edge of the beach like a piece of canvas that kept furling and crumpling in the wind. A chalk-white sky fell to meet the gray ocean.

Miles away and months earlier, I had stood in my workplace, running ravioli dough through a pasta roller. As the dough draped over my hands like cloth, my co-worker and friend looked over at me from where she worked, scoring zucchini for dinner.

“What’s something very few people know about you?” she asked, continuing our habit of making our minds work as hard as our hands. We knew that good questions made the time go faster, but as I looked at the dough in my hands, I couldn’t think of an answer.

Standing on the beach, holding a kite string and feeling an excitement that I could barely explain, even to myself, I had an answer: I loved flying kites. Hardly anyone knew that. Maybe I hadn’t even known it myself until the moment when the wind caught the kite and tugged on the string, sending pulses to my fingers like Morse code on a telegraph wire. I suddenly understood the kite flyer and titular character of the novel Virgil Wander, who said, “I didn’t hold the string so much as to climb it, and once flying I felt small and unencumbered, as if the moving sky were home.”

Somehow, my new knowledge about myself didn’t surprise me. Only a person who loves kites would throw dignity to the proverbial wind and dash down the beach, trying to simulate a steady breeze. And only a person who loves kites would know that Marco Polo’s diary reported Chinese kites that were large enough to lift humans. Or that a man named George Pocock invented a toll-exempt, kite-drawn carriage in 1822 that drove at speeds of up to twenty miles per hour. Come to think of it—I had always loved kites.

As I stood there, distracted with my thoughts, the kite dived and made two arcing loops, almost brushing the sand in one of its downward plunges. As it steadied, I realized that I was grinning up at the sky. Four pelicans flew above the kite, observing the colorful addition to their air space. Clouds hid the sunset. The kite seemed to brighten even the sky’s gray mood. I wanted to shout, “Look, I’m flying!” to the whole world but decided against it—at least until the responsible man with earbuds and a large wristwatch had jogged past me along the shoreline.

Suddenly, I felt like the speaker in Robert Frost’s poem “Birches,” when he said:

“It’s when I’m weary of considerations

And life is too much like a pathless wood

Where your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs

Broken across it, and one eye is weeping

From a twig’s having lashed across it open.

I’d like to get away from earth awhile

And then come back to it and begin over.”

Getting away from earth awhile. That’s what my childish whim added up to. Like the boy swinging on birch trees in the poem, I’d found a way to reach toward heaven, a way to forget lashing realities for a moment before dipping back down to earth to try life again.

The kite settled into the wind, gliding like a sailboat on water rather than fabric hanging on air. The sun set behind the clouds, and evening made itself at home. Squares of light shone from hotels far down the beach, and lights on a pier dotted the ocean like a runway into the sea. Maybe it was time for me to reel in the kite line, time to come back to earth. But I wasn’t quite ready yet.

Maybe it was childish—this kite fascination. But so was climbing birch trees. And if flying a kite one night made you ready to brave the world the next morning, maybe it was actually the grown-up thing to do. Frost himself wrote that “one could do worse than be a swinger of birches.” And, if that were true, I could do worse than be a kite flyer.