Monday, March 19, 2012

How I Lost a Kite but Regained My Childhood

How I Lost a Kite but Regained my Childhood
Dangling 20 Feet above the Ground
In Which two Ladders, a Tree, and a Carpet Brush become Well-Acquainted

My cousin sent me a kite for my birthday last month. Today was windy and lovely. It was time to release my inner child. It was time to fly.

The kite worked beautifully. I let out all the string and watched the tiny purple diamond hover above me. Seeing it brought to my mind Al Andrews’ words in The Boy, the Kite, and the Wind: “The eternal wind will outlast anything that flies in it.”

The eternal wind was very strong today. It snatched the pink plastic reel from my hand and threw it across the yard.

My first thought was “Maybe it will catch on the tree!” Well, fate was kind today; it caught on the tree. My kite continued to fly above it.

I breathed a sigh of relief. I am no stranger to tree climbing. Two things are notable about my childhood: I read lots of very big books, and I was sort of a squirrel-ninja. When I was three, I climbed the rock bluffs at Palisades State Park in Illinois and passed people who were climbing with ropes. In elementary school, I could beat all the boys to the top of the jungle gym. I loved nothing better than climbing to the top of a tree in a high wind and holding on. This would be a snap.

Well, first of all, the branches were too high for me to reach. Rather than trying to shimmy up and ruin my new pants, I decided I would use a ladder. It would be quicker, and I wanted my kite back so I could keep flying. But I didn’t know where we stored ladders in our new house. When I checked one of the sheds, I found an ancient wooden ladder barely holding together. I decided that for my purposes, it would do.

I leaned it against the tree and climbed up. It’s a tall tree, but has lots of slender branches. Most of them were placed so that they’d poke me but offer no support as I climbed. I had to pull most of my weight with my arms, which are about as thick as spaghetti noodles.

My first plan was to find where the string was tangled closest to the kite. I would pull the kite in, take it apart, and then tamely pull the string from the tree. It would be easy. I used to be able to climb that high when I was younger.

Well, I also used to weigh about 50 pounds. And I also used to be a lot more flexible than I am now. And I also used to be fearless. At 19 years and about 140 pounds, some of the skinny branches just didn’t seem so friendly. I would have to stand on a branch less than an inch thick to reach the string. My better judgment told me no.

My next angle of attack was to get the reel. It was tangled on the farthest part of one of the lowest branches on the tree. It extended at about a 45 degree angle and was scattered with smaller branches that would make climbing difficult. The reel was at least 25 feet above the ground. I started up, but was dissuaded by all the poky little branches. Then I got a bright idea. I would find a better ladder, stand below the branch, and maybe be able to grab the reel with a long stick or something.

Well, my better ladder was six feet tall. I was not going to reach the reel from the ground.

Give up? Never. I wanted my kite, darn it. I put my game face on and changed into old jeans – something that never would have occurred to me to do when I was 6 – and started up the tree again.

I went back to plan A, but this time I had a weapon: a yellow telescoping carpet brush thingy we use to clean up dog hair. At its longest, the handle was about four feet. The brush made it into a long T. If I could wrap the string around the end, I bet that I could pull it in toward me.

Three different branches couldn’t get me close enough to use it. Carrying it made climbing much more difficult. I had to stick it somewhere above me where it wouldn’t fall while I climbed up to it push it forward again.

Finally, I threw it onto the tricky branch with the reel. It stayed, but I didn’t know how long it would. I had to get over there quickly to try, try again.

The kite danced merrily above. I could hear it flapping in the eternal wind.

When I was younger, I might have walked up that tricky branch like a monkey, using my hands and feet. Apparently the part of my brain that judges distance to the ground is more developed now. I scooted up that branch on my stomach, smushing all the smaller branches that were trying to poke me. By the time I got to the carpet brush, the branch was bent almost horizontal.

I was lying on a 2-inch thick branch 20 feet above the ground. I was fully visible from the highway running past my house. I was wielding a yellow carpet brush, and I was determined. I would detangle that kite reel. I would fly again. I would be victorious.

I held onto the brush as the wind tossed the branch about. The end could just barely reach the kite string. I succeeded in pulling the reel off one branch. Now the string was just tangled above it. When I tried to pull it down, it got stuck on little bud-bearing twigs. I pulled, but tentatively – if the string broke, the kite would probably work itself free and fly away.

Then I got the idea to tangle the string around the end of the brush and drop it. Maybe I could reach the end of the handle using something with the ladder on the ground. I very carefully flailed the carpet brush. When it looked good and tangled, I dropped the end. The whole brush fell to the ground. The string stayed where it was.

After scooting very uncomfortably back down the branch, I employed my next tactic. I climbed down the tree, down the rickety wooden ladder, retrieved the brush, and climbed up the steel ladder below the reel. I would throw the brush like a javelin. It would get tangled in the string, weigh the branch down, and allow me to pull the reel back to me. What could be simpler?

I don’t think most Olympians use telescoping javelins. On my first throw, the handle snapped closed with the throwing momentum and flopped to the ground.

I threw again. And again. And again. I put some spin on it. I tried throwing it with the handle collapsed and at its full length. Finally, the wind blew the flying carpet brush into the barn, where the brush broke off and the whole thing came down in two pieces.

From where I sit on the porch, I can still see my lovely purple kite flying, tail streaming, tugging at the tree holding it down. I can see the pink plastic reel dangling on the branch. I can see my failure.

I got scraped up and made a spectacle of myself to passing cars. I’m still picking bark out of my pants, and my feet are stained green and brown. I am kiteless.

But I spent an afternoon up a tree, just like I would have years ago. It’s a good day.

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