Tom had bought a kite the night before. He had put it together with great care that morning, making sure that the cross bar was perfectly square and that the strings were tied just where the instructions had told him they were supposed to go. A bright yellow sunburst filled almost its entire diamond face.
As he was about to leave, his older brother, John, advised him he needed to add a tail. "John has to get his nose in everything," He thought. Tom seldom did anything John told him to do, but he stuffed an extra piece of string and several old rags in his pocket on the way through the garage, just in case.
He headed for a meadow in the nearby forest preserve. The fresh, green, recently cut grass felt like a carpet under his feet. The June wind softened the bite of the afternoon sun as it tussled the branches of trees covered with the virgin-green leaves. Cumulus clouds floated like cotton balls across a deep blue sky.
Tom headed for the middle of the field, took out a ball of string he had rolled on a stick, and tied it to the middle of the strings on the kite.
He held the kite away so that the wind could catch it. Little happened. He reached the string high over his head and played out six feet. A gust of wind pulled on the kite. It rose momentarily. But as soon as it rose, it tilted to the left and began to spin around and down. Around and around it flew in tighter and tighter circles. He let out more string and it climbed a bit. But as soon as he stopped letting out the string it spun left again, more violently now than before. " Maybe, it needs that tail," he said to himself as he started winding in the string. The kite spun violently. So he walked toward it as he wound. That worked better.
With the kite back on the ground, he pulled the string and rags out of his pocket. He tied one end of the string to the bottom of the kite and then tied all ten of the rag strips he had every foot or so down the string.
Again he held the string high over his head and waited. This time the wind caught the kite and began to lift it into the sky, but only so far. It wasn't tilting left, but it wasn't raising either. It couldn't get all of the tail off the ground.
Tom ran away from the kite, it rose. He let out some string as he ran, the kite kept going up without tilting. Finally, with a hundred feet or so of string between him and the kite, Tom was getting close to the woods, he had to stop.
The kite rocked slowly back and forth as it zigzagged its way back to the ground. If Tom pulled on the string, the kite held its own or rose slowly. But there was no more room to move away. The tail soon reached the ground.
Being a bit smarter than brother John would ever give him credit for being, Tom noticed that the kite seemed to hold its own more or less when three of the ten rags were on the ground. "Maybe if I take those three rags off, it will fly.
He did. And it did. A hundred feet of string were quickly out and the kite soared upward. He stopped the string a moment and could feel the strong wind pulling at the kite now starting to tilt to the left again until it was moving sideways. He let another hundred feet slip through his hand, this time a bit fast, he felt the string begin to burn his fingers. The string went out so quickly that the kite began to fall. It was riding with the wind instead of being lifted by it. He tightened up on the string, letting it out much more slowly. The kite rose straight up higher and higher.
Before he knew it, he had played out the full 500 feet of string and was holding the stick tied to the end of the string. He felt the string being pulled by the wind and the kite as before. But he could also feel the vibrations of the wind blowing on the string, two very different sensations. The latter felt almost like a hum. As he looked up at the yellow kite against the deep blue sky, the string was not straight. It formed a bow with a couple bends in the middle. It looked like a giant, lazy "S" curve.
Sitting on the ground, he placed the stick and the string between his legs behind his kneecaps. He pulled another 500-foot roll of string from his coat pocket and tied the end of this new string to the stick.
The wind had let up a bit and the kite was holding its own, not pulling to the left as it had done earlier when a gust blew against it. Tom let the new string flow through his fingers more slowly now. As the kite continued its slow raise, a hawk glided in from the forest and circled the kite a couple times. Or that's surely what Tom thought he saw it do. His kite and a hawk in flight together! Wow!
The kite started to drift to the right. It was still upright, not tilting as it had done earlier when it spun to the left. In fact, Tom first thought it was the beginning of another spin so he let out the string faster to relieve the wind pressure. All the kite did was begin to drop. So he slowed his release speed again and it rose as he let out all the remaining sting of his 500-foot roll. When all the string was out, he could see a definite bend to the right in the string somewhere above the stick that marked the end of the first 500 feet of string far above. The wind was blowing a different direction up there than it was blowing on the ground.
With all the string out, Tom stood and watched as the kite and its tail rolled gently right and left, up and down in the cotton clouds of the afternoon sky.
He pulled on the string and the kite barely responded. The string, now bowed heavily, just became a bit less bowed. He walked backward, and then ran. The kite responded raising even higher. When he moved forward, the string bowed more, the kite maintained its height. The kite looked like a bird at a neck-stinging angle out and above him.
After an hour he just sat down, content to watch the wind move the kite now, no longer trying to change its flight. He felt the wind's tug and that ever-present low hum, mostly a feeling, of the wind in the string.
After sitting for another hour, he began to roll up the string connecting him with the clouds and wind and sky. He had all but a hundred feet reeled in when John came to fetch him home for supper. The flight was over two and a half hours after it had started.
On the way home, with his connection to the wind under his arm, Tom actually thanked John for reminding him about the tail.
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