This Time, Nothing But the Real Thing

I meticulously went over the contents of the cellophane bag for the third time, but the "spreader connectors" referred to in the instructions were not there. The manufacturers apparently had forgotten to package these small plastic parts, essential to the kite's assembly and flight. The triangular sail lay spread on the floor like a proud, exotic bird whose wings had just been clipped.

"Sorry, Tim, no flying today," I said to my son, who'd just gotten the kite as a birthday present. The wind was whipping up nicely, too, gusting more powerfully by the minute. Tim was momentarily crestfallen, but then he shrugged and carried some newly unwrapped action figures outside to their first mock battle. Though I longed for him to outgrow the allure they held, I also admired how he'd contained his frustration over the kite. He was, indeed, growing up, his 11th birthday the latest benchmark in a steady progression of infinitesimal steps out of young childhood.

The wind never quit that day. Late in the afternoon, Tim and I headed in the direction it blew, along the cow paths to our farm's log sugaring cabin. This was to be a special birthday treat - over-nighting there far from chores. We'd have popcorn over the hearth, canasta by oil lamplight, wood stove macaroni, and stargazing before sleep. We arrived with our packs and collected the necessary firewood. Then before the sun dropped, we took the bat and ball we'd carried along to the big open pasture for some pitching and hitting practice.

Tim stood expectantly at bat as I wound my arm back, but then a very large, dark form caught my eye. Riding the strong, warm currents above us was a turkey vulture, one of the migratory species that suddenly show up over our pastures in early spring. The big bird appeared to be going nowhere against the powerful drafts. His great, fringed wings dipped one way then another as he wheeled, retreated, and battled fiercely back. Or was he merely playing? Like a ...

"Tim!" I yelled. "There's your kite!" My son spun around and looked up. He immediately appreciated my analogy as the bird performed another series of aerial acrobatics, pulling mightily at an imaginary string for his earthbound audience.

"Kite, schmite!" he seemed to taunt. "See me! I am real, the very blueprint, and no missing parts!"

The "string" broke then. The dark form wheeled over the treetops and disappeared, leaving us grinning.

That night as our noodle water heated, Tim and I stepped outside for a look at the sky. The cabin is set far from the road, and no lights compete with the stars' own. Hale-Bopp was brilliantly clear in the northwest, the comet's tail a long, luminous blur.

"Whoa," Tim whispered. We both thought of Ben, our big, fast-moving Percheron, streaming his own marvelous tail - and once again of kites. We sat on the hilltop holding the far-off comet with light, open grips.

HALE-BOPP was the feature attraction of a dazzling celestial display that night. The star-studded heavens arced, Tim said, "like a planetarium's dome" - the blueprint for that man-made replica. Orion stood straight in the southwest, sword sheathed, quietly contemplating. With outstretched fingers, we bounced along his star-braided belt. A bright planet to the east - Mars or Venus, I was not sure which - glowed with a warm, neighborly light.

Normally a chatterbox, Tim lapsed silent under such a sky. He may have been feeling his first heady and humbling connections to the cosmos, his first sense of the tiny space he occupied. When we headed slowly in to light the lamps for dinner, I knew the defective kite was far from his thoughts. A kid, even at 11, can work just so many strings at once.

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