COLUMN: To fly a kite among the tamaracks

This is my weekly column for the Sunday, May 15, 2011 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

To fly a kite among the tamaracks
By Aaron J. Brown

For most people flying a kite is a childhood activity. I hold some vague memory of owning a kite as a kid, sailing it over the treetops in a city park somewhere on the Iron Range. At least once I got the kite up high, extending every inch of line on the spool.

But I didn’t live in town. We were just visiting. I grew up out in the swampy terrain just off the iron formation, where power lines stand sentry over all roads and driveways. Everything else is scrubby tamaracks that would literally eat kites, tangling their nylon tails, shredding the flesh, sending tatters down to ground, absorbing the kite molecules into the roots until one day some fifth generation spark of kite essence felt the sky air at the tip of the tree, shouting, “We made it, papa. We made it.”

I suspect this is what happened to my childhood kite but I honestly don’t remember. That’s how it is for the middle generations.

We were recently at a family gathering in honor of my grandfather’s birthday at his house near the Eveleth-Virginia airport. My uncle had picked up some kites for the boys so I unraveled one from its packaging and took it outside. Our boys and various other child relatives were excited to fly a kite, a well worn trope from their favorite Curious George stories. It is fitting that I had forgotten the perils of my potential kinsman, Charlie Brown, and his cartoon kite.

I learned that you can cover about 3/4 of a mile on foot with the kite flittering behind you, crashing into mud puddles, tangling with picnic tables and tantalizing you with bursts of energy that never materialize into flight. I tried to count this as exercise later, but any exercise born of desperation is ineligible for Weight Watchers activity points.

I realized that by extending more line, snapping taut, and soliciting some help throwing the kite, I could launch the kite. This did not happen easily. By the time success was achieved the crowd of children had thinned down to two, both of whom firmly believed that it was their turn to staff the wires.

Running into the wind might mean running across the road toward the airport which means that kite will be hovering over a piece of land legally known as a road. This is very exciting but probably unwise. Also, this was by an airport. This is very exciting but probably illegal.

I almost clotheslined a kid on a dirt bike. The kite had collapsed on the corner and as I was attempting to restore it to the sky it lurched upward just as a pair of bikers buzzed by. I’m glad the guy is OK, but I kind of wish this moment was granted the permanence of a police report.

The second time I tried to fly the kite was the next day out in the woods where we live. This was more difficult; trees filter the wind. Latent emotions from that childhood kite and the tamaracks wafted through the air. Long after the kids had turned their attention to bikes, and my wife had struck up a conversation with her parents, I persisted.

I think I did so because there is something about the actual experience of flying a kite, the unvarnished reality, which struck me. I’m a father now, a career professional with dreams both achieved and on hold until the kids are a little older. These kites are hard to get in the air and the chances of them staying up are relatively low. The forces at play seem simple. Mighty wind should easily lift a faint little scrap of fabric. But down drafts and swirling vortexes abound. The grass is wet and slippery. After time, the kite is covered in mud and the people wonder why you are still out there.

Understand that this kite must fly. If it won’t fly, if I am to ever sleep well, I must lay my head on the pillow knowing that I ran hard into the wind. If it won’t fly, it must fly the next day, or the day after.

Aaron J. Brown is a writer and college instructor from the Iron Range. He is the author of the blog and the book “Overburden: Modern Life on the Iron Range.”


  1. I have this brilliant image in my head of you angrily trying to fly a kite in the background as your wife and relatives chat politely while drinking coffee.

  2. You would have that image almost exactly right. 🙂

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