Lynette Ubois shook the hair out of her eyes and held up her purple kite to the wind, like an offering. She is slight, wiry, 11 years old. She flung her arm out and stepped back quickly, hoping.
The judges waited, Lynette was the first official kite-flyer of the day yesterday, entrant No. 1 in the 11th annual Smithsonian competition around the Washington Monument. She had spent three days on this kite, bent over the dining room table with the kitchen scissors in her hand, cutting the pattern in newsprint, notching the pine, dipping the folded and tied silk-span into a pot of Tintex Purple Dye No. 2.
And worrying, "I wonder if it'll look all funny when it's done," she had said. "I hope this one flies."
Now the wind whipped up over the monument and her kite was on trial and people stood by to watch. The kite backed away and ducked toward earth. Lynette tugled on the string. The kite soared and dived again, and then with its streamers arched out like widespread arms the kite rose gently straight up into the sky and Lynette smiled below it, holding the wind.
"A kite," the contest organizer Paul Garber was announcing, "is a tethered, heavier-than-air craft which depends only on the air for lift." And then Garber joked about the definition because he is a man who has always loved kites, and he, more than anybody, knew how inadequate it was.
Around him lay wild birds of tissue paper, flying dog houses, mysterious whirling shapes that would leap and spin in the air. A giant pastel striped biplane waited for a chance to fly. There were boxes and hexagons and brilliant long streamers: crepe paper, glitter, aluminium, feathers.
An inflatable pink bunny rabbit dropped a silver parachute toward earth.
It was a brilliant March afternoon, the first cream-colored blossoms ringing the monument grounds, and the kite people reveled in a fantasy of flight. Tony Alderman, the 76-year-old builder of the parachuting bunny kite, said, "I'm not sure what to call it, but it's the first one I've ever seen."
Stephen Bernstein, who carried a glorious translucent Thunderbird kite, said he was an engineer by trade and in kite-flying he could make magic, make art of his engineering.
The judging categories were Beauty, Design, Craftsmanship, Ingenuity. The judges sat at a long table in the wind as the kite-makers paraded by and explained the fine pionts of their work: "See, this is four units zipped together, and it's got a titanium crossbar and the whole thing goes in a bag." From an aerodynamic standpoint it's a very advanced sled." "It glows in the dark."
And when the kites had been studied up close, they were sent off to fly. The contestants stood in a small roped-off area and flung their creations into the air, running to and fro, reeling in frantically, squinting up into the sun.
The big kites rose ponderously, like birds after a large meal, shadowing the crowd with their great shapes. The little kites darted up and zipped about, entangling each other and then ducking free. A bright Afghan fighting kite was eyed contemtuously by a Philippine man whose kites also fought, and he nodded to the Afghan owner and said, "We have dogfight afterward."
Some 25 people won trophies for their kites. Lynette Ubois was not one of them, but she won a prize last year, and anyway, her friend Emily Eiwen won the category for the best figure kite. Lynette said she felt "pretty good."
And her purple kite, with its wild long streamers, had caught and held the wind.