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It's Time To Fly A Kite, -- In Texas Anyway

Monday 19 March 2018 at 8:23 pm.

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for March 15, 2018, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

            Known as the “windy month,” March has always been considered the best month to fly kites. In fact, the American poet, William Cullen Bryant said of the month, “The stormy March has come at last, with wind and cloud, and changing skies,” though I don’t think he was interested in flying kites. Benjamin Franklin, the famous person who was interested in flying kites, didn’t conduct his famous kite-flying experiment regarding electricity in March; no, he did it during a thunder storm in June in 1752. He did prove his point about electricity, and somehow managed not to be killed in the process.

            Franklin proved the electrical nature of lightning by collecting a charge in a Leyden jar when struck by lightning. Historians say the jar was not hit by visible lightning, or he would have been killed. His experiment teaches us not to fly a kite in a thunder storm during June, or during any other month, for that matter.

            Just about every year, during the month of March, I usually think about my Scouting days when we made our own kites. I can’t say that we flew them, because they often didn’t fly. This year was a little different, as I followed my daughter in New York, long distance, through three rather severe winter storms. The third one will have happened by the time you read this. The second one knocked down trees north of where my daughter lives, with winds gusting up to 50 or 60 miles an hour. Keeping up with these storms via my daughter, and via a friend who lives in a more direct path of the blizzards, and the national weather news on TV, I was inclined not to be reminded of kite-flying during these early days of March.

            However, today, in Texas anyway, seems more like a kite-flying March day, with perhaps just the right amount of wind without being kite-destructive gusty. I did not like Scouting in general, but I did like the kite making and attempted flying part.

            Even today, a Scout can earn credits for making and flying a kite. The Wolf Club Scout Book shows you, or used to, how to construct your own kite. The instructions suggest that you learn to use the wind and air currents, but they don’t explain just how that works.

            In my Scouting days, we learned by trial and error. Mostly error. The instruction books always called for using a light wood, especially balsa or some other type of bombax wood. However, if you were a Scout living in rural areas like Dime Box, the chances of your finding balsa were remote. So you broke off some branches from a mesquite tree and made your frame with that.

            Now your Scouting manual says to take some light material like paper or silk and stretch it across the frame. You know Mama’s not going to let you have any silk from her sewing basket, so that leaves paper. You find yourself with two choices: paper from a Sears Roebuck Catalogue or from a copy of Grit (it was a newspaper in those days). Since newspaper covers the frame better, you opt for that. You don’t realize that with mesquite sticks and newspaper you’ve tripled the weight from what it would be with balsa slats and tissue paper.

            Then you see a drawing in the manual of a kite with a tail on it, so you add another 10 to 24 ounces by making a tail out of a long stocking. Thus you create a kite that’s destined to come crashing down like a lead balloon even when you climb on top of the barn to launch it.

            Sometimes, however, when you would get the angle of the kite against the wind just right, it would actually fly. A kite must head up and into the wind, and your makeshift stocking tail accomplishes that. Even tissue paper and balsa won’t put your kite in the air if its angle is wrong and the wind forces don’t lift it right. Several inventors, including A. G. Bell, flew kites to try to understand the problems in airplane construction.

            Now that it’s kite-flying time in Texas anyway, I recommend buying a kite rather than trying to make one.

            There’s something exhilarating about kite-flying, -- doing it makes you feel as though your body is up there flying just below the clouds. You can’t fly a kite and remain tense and uptight. So when you tell your boss to “go fly a kite,” you’re really just telling him to relax and take it easy. Well, aren’t you?

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