Adults are being lured back to the childhood pursuit not by high-tech materials but by the old-fashioned feeling of awe.
Tom Cross loves kites. He collects kite memorabilia dating to 1835. He serves as president of the Minnesota Kite Society. He even has used kites in his profession, as a mental health therapist. Oh, and the therapy extends to himself.
"All of this is very calming to me," he said. "I love the pretty. I love the colors. I love the movement. It doesn't talk back to me, and if it breaks, it usually can be fixed."
At 64, Cross is living proof that kites aren't just for kids anymore. Many of the folks out tugging on strings in open fields are as old as the phrase "oh, go fly a kite." Re-embracing this most childlike of pursuits, they're lured by feather-light fabrics and eye-popping designs. They fly models that range from "10,000 square feet to the size of your small fingernail," as Cross puts it. And today's kites can ascend thousands of feet or dazzle observers indoors, as a contestant on "America's Got Talent" proved last summer.
There's nostalgia involved, of course, but most of these outsized kids say they return to kite flying for a moment of zen.
"You get [a kite] up," said Dean Murray, 48, of Brooklyn Park, "and it just flees and sort of pastes itself into the sky." Craig Christensen, 69, of Webster, Minn., said that when a group of kite enthusiasts get together, they light up the sky. "There's so much color that it makes the sky jump," he said.
Those colors will be on display at the Flying Colors Kite Festival at Bloomington's Valley View Middle School on Saturday. The event is sponsored by the Kite Society, whose 100-plus members make, collect and send kites soaring.
Some of the identified flying objects will be creations of Barbara Meyer, 60, of Maple Grove, who is serving her second term as president of American Kite Fliers Association. Six of Meyer's creations are sold nationally, including an 81-square-foot "Mega Power Sled" for $288, and her works are on display every winter at St. Paul's Ordway Theater.
"I'm always noodling," she said while keeping a multicolored kite aloft in the fields behind Valley View on a mostly wind-free summer afternoon. "If your kite is built properly, it will fly without wind."
Nearby, in a tuxedo with top hat ("my air conditioning"), Christensen was tending to his red-white-and-blue "Candy Striper" and explaining how this whole kite-flying thing works. Like so much in life, he said, it's "all in the wrists."
"It will be stable where it wants to be. Let it tell you," he said. "If [the kite] is pulling, you let string out. If it's falling, you let line in. It's a tug action, a lot like fishing. That's how it was the first time I went out and got it up, just like hooking a northern. It has that jolt. That stays with you."
Certainly it has stuck with Christensen, who has amassed a collection of about 1,500 kites and entertains kids at parties as "Mr. Kite."
Cross' kite memorabilia collection dates to 1835 and includes Flying Putter Postcards, winders, toys and, of course, kites.
As with most adults who embrace kite flying, Murray came back after a decade or three of being kite-free.
"I was an enthusiast as a kid," he said, "and three years ago I was in Fargo and went to a little kite festival and saw these big inflatables. I thought 'Wow, kites are a lot different now.'"
Cross, of Maple Grove, rediscovered his old hobby while camping on Mount Hood in Oregon with his adult son. Kite-flying then moved from an avocation to part of his vocation.
In 13 years of group and individual therapy with students in the Rum River-Mora area, Cross found that some of the students would "badmouth kites. Eventually I'd get one of the bigger kites in their hands that they'd have to pull on and they'd shut up," Cross said. "When you say kite, everyone has a picture of a 29-cent kite. But you put 500-pound test line on it on a windy day and hand 'em the string and they can't stand still. Once they have it up, that calmness overcomes them, and I couldn't get them off the field."
Clearly, one thing hasn't changed.
"With kites," Christensen said, "everybody is a kid, whether they're 2 or 92."
Bill Ward • 612-673-7643