Wednesday, October 31, 2007

I Was a UFO Hoaxter

I got started when I took up kite-flying as a calming activity. My life had been frenetic, stressful, and I had given up a bad habit recently, so I bought a sturdy delta-winged kite.
Since '86 I've been looking for the pre-packaged box kites I was most impressed with as a kid; surely imported from Taiwan those days, with tremendous lift and stability and unique in that they have no obvious"wings" but the paper panels forming part of the sides of the rectangular box. I haven't seen them in years, and I keep putting off making my own. But a good tested delta kite will be all right.

I experimented with nylon monofilament for fishing, 5- and 10-pound-test line, but settled for the reliable 15 or 20. I bought about 15 rolls of 400-yard line as my hobby progressed.
I remember one sunny, breezy afternoon tying a few successive spools together as I played out my kite to a height of about 1,200 yards or about 2/3 of a mile out. A pair of brown eagles came from over the horizon once I got up to about 600 feet; I guess they were checking out to see if they had some local competition. Cautious that they might actually attack, or at least tumble my kite, I quickly played out about 400 more feet of line and outclimbed them. A small Piper from the local airstrip came by to check things out.

I toyed around with it in those days. I would try to see how high I needed to fly it to make it disappear completely. I got self-conscious, once, because I knew I looked odd, out in a field holding an invisible string attached to nothing that could be seen. And flying an invisible kite loses it's fun, even if I was breaking my own altitude records in the process.

I didn't have any fancy reels, just a homemade large can I wrapped and let out simply. It took forever to reel that kite back down from 2000 feet. I remember the first time getting impatient, and then I realized I was having such a cool time, I didn't care if it took a while to reel in and go home. I learned patience.

One night I drove through some backstreets to a field that abutted a main road, though you couldn't get into the field there. It was dusk; I parked my car behind some weeds, and by the time I got my kite up in the air it was dark out. I don't think the moon was visible.
I played out about 1,000 feet of line, got out a little tiny cheap flashlight I'd bought in the grocery checkout lane, and taped it onto the string with some duct tape. It made the line sag somewhat, but as it rose up the kite caught a higher lift far above, and pulled that little light straight up another 600 feet.

It looked very cool. The kite was completely out of sight in the dark heights, but the light quickly became a point, a pixie of light unlike any usual thing seen in the night sky. It was no bird, plane, swampgas, helicopter, star, or balloon. Just a slightly jittery, shimmering little light in the sky.

I didn't know the building far across the field and across the road was a church until the service ended, and people started coming out of the front door of the church, chatting with each other, heading for their cars in the parking lot beside the building. One person saw it, then a few more started pointing up at it in the sky, and talking. I was too far away, about 250 yards to make out any words, behind some weeds, leaning on my car in the total darkness, and I was being quiet. Their voices sounded really alive, kind of loud, but that wasn't it, it was a tone of curiosity, a murmur of unafraid excitement and interest... mystery.

It's interesting to me how about half the people there took one look at it and didn't linger at all; they walked straight to their cars and drove away, almost nervously it seemed to me. The other half of the people stood out there, pointing up at the little light, talking to each other for over 20 minutes, slowly drifting to their cars before the last two couples stayed a few more minutes, watching and talking quietly. The other couple started to their car, the man calling over his shoulder to his friend, "Well, I hope you figure it out!" and the last holdout looked back up into the sky, but his wife grabbed his arm and I barely heard her say to her husband, "Come on, honey, let's GO."


Jumper said...
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