On recent trips into San Luis Obispo, I saw many kites in flight and was moved to repeat parts of the column I wrote in 2005.
To say “windy” in Cambria lingo, say “spring” — the two words are interchangeable. A drive into San Luis Obispo at this time of year provides scenes of the wind leaving its footprints in the spring grass. The prevailing breeze and warming temperatures will, along with diminishing precipitation, combine to bleach chlorophyll from the green hills. Hawks and vultures glide effortlessly over the coastal range in search of sustenance. It’s amazing how birds native to the Central Coast have learned to copy the hang gliders found soaring over the cliffs of Morro Bay. Remarkable.But eventually, the verdant Santa Lucia range will evolve into shades of browns and tans. In the rhythmic pattern of Mother Nature, that which is green will turn to russet and gold — and, in time, become green again. I have used the description before, but one of my favorite depictions is that the hills become like huge piles of chamois, spilling into the teal-blue sea.As I write these words, shadows of pine trees dance on my living room carpet. And I am drawn again to the winds of spring and kite flying.I bought my first home in 1959. This was in Newport Beach, and I paid $15,600. A few years later, the Irvine Company was granted the right to establish a campus of the University of California system. Plans called for a city to surround the institution; it was to be called University City. Not long after that, it was decided to name the community Irvine. But before all the house-seeds were planted to cover the lovely, rolling hills, I often took my young kids to fly kites on the windy, wildflower-covered hillsides. We’d lie in the tall grass and read the clouds, looking for animals and such in the white, billowing forms. The children would play tag with their kites, diving and zooming at each other until they decided it was time to return home. And as usual, Daddy had to reel in the aerial toys while Roger, Lisa and Jana gathered bouquets of flowers to take home to Mommy.One of my grandest kite memories took place when I was about 9 years old. Because of a family situation during World War II, it was necessary for me to attend a boarding school in Arkansas for two years. Arkansas? To a kid from Pasadena, this was like moving to a foreign country. Needless to say, I was homesick and wished every night that I could return home. But that melancholy time also provided one of the most wonderful experiences of my life. The woodshop teacher created a kite of gigantic proportions (well, at least to the eyes of that young boy). It must have been about 7 feet tall and 6 feet wide. Covered with heavy wrapping paper and sporting a tail that was perhaps 40 feet long, it was necessary to use a sturdy cord for string.A bunch of us kids carried the monstrous thing to a large field next to the school. Mr. Willis drove a heavy stake into the ground and secured a large reel to it. A brisk breeze was tugging at our contraption as we struggled to maintain control. The kite was held flat to the ground while we waited for the signal to release it. I held the tail.“Okay, boys, let ’er go!” shouted Mr. Willis. In an instant, the stiff breeze lifted the brown kite into the sky. I was so excited that I forgot to let go of the tail and was lifted perhaps 10 feet into the spring sky before the teacher released the brake, allowing the darn thing to flutter and drop in altitude. I was still several feet in the air when I let go and tumbled into the tall grass. Mr. Willis ran to my side to check my condition. Nothing was broken, but that thrilling experience was imprinted into my book of memories that is still fresh and familiar 62 years later. I smile at the reverie.
Email John Brannon at firstname.lastname@example.org