I have been watching bald eagles, sandhill cranes, ring-billed gulls and some hawks soaring, most often hundreds of feet above the land.

The flight of an airplane high overhead reminded me of how Orville and Wilbur Wright had carefully watched birds in flight, leading to their success in flying gliders, followed by the world's first successful motor-operated airplane in 1903.

For many years as a naturalist and teacher, I used kite-building and flying as a way to create student interest in studying wind (air in motion), including speed and direction, as part of our "awareness of weather" unit.

In Minnesota we often build or buy (and fly) kites to celebrate the return of spring, but it's really a sport for all seasons. Most all ages can enjoy this outdoor activity together. I have fun kite-flying with our grandkids.

Kites did not originate in Minnesota nor in America, for that matter. China is the birthplace. From there kite-flying spread over 2,500 years to Korea, Japan, Thailand, India, Europe and finally to the U.S.

The kite is really an anchored airplane, and, although the comparison is not exact, the two have much in common. Both the airplane and the kite stay aloft because of the movement of air against or across a nearly plane surface.

The airplane has a motor to pull it through and against the air, thus making its own breeze, and the kite has a string to hold it in position while the wind pushes against its surface. Both actions hold the heavier-than-air objects off the ground, overcoming the force of gravity.

Jim Gilbert taught and worked as a naturalist for 50 years.