Amid thoughts of spring and March winds, children and adults alike turn their attention to kite flying.
On a recent cool, brisk Saturday, a group of young kite fans showed up at the Mount Vernon Recreation Center in the Belle View section of Fairfax County to try their hand at kite making.
Lorraine Fetterolf, program coordinator for the center, and her husband, Ed, were in charge of the workshop for children between the ages of 6 and 14. Adults appeared as well -- mothers, fathers, aunts and older siblings -- to give advice.
According to Webster's dictionary, a kite is a light frame, usually of wood, covered with paper or cloth, to be flown in the wind at the end of a string.
But this definition does not match the colorful reality of what children at the workshop produced.
There was Javen Kiernan, an expert kite maker at 6 1/2, who decorated his kite with a moon and stars. "Do you know the moon is made of green cheese?" Javen asked.
Mary Condo, 8, won the prize for the prettiest kite with a colorful scene of a little brown-haired girl flying her kite among green grass and flowers.
Ed Fetterolf limited the workshop to a basic type of kite that was simple for the children to construct. Their creative abilities were allowed to shine in their colorful decorations.
The design was a basic, two-stick affair that did not require nails or metal to hold it together. These two sticks, with the cross stick the shorter of the two, were tied together where they crossed.
Notches were then cut into the ends of the sticks, with Ed Fetterolf doing this part for the younger children. String was put around the frame across the notches. The frame was then laid out as a pattern on paper that was cut slightly larger than the frame.
At this point the children decorated the paper by coloring designs with crayons and magic markers before folding and gluing the edges of the cover over the frame. Next a set of loose strings called the bridle were attached where the two sticks crossed. The last step was to add a tail for stability; in this case, the youngsters used small, torn strips of white cloth.
As the kites were nearing completion, Javen observed that "there's sure a lot of work to making a kite."
"Glue sticks to everything," he said.
Still not quite sure of how he was doing, Javen asked his aunt, Cynthia Kiernan, what she thought of his kite.
"I'm sure it will fly," she replied. Did it ever: Javen won a prize for flying his kite the highest.
As it turned out, flying the kites had to be a joint effort between children and adults because it was difficult for the youngsters to get their kites to catch the wind. As their creations took flight, shouts of glee and last-minute instructions filled the air. "Look, Mom, look, see how high my kite is." "Better let some string out or it's going to come crashing down." "My kite's high up in the air." "It's going to the sun." "Oh no, it's crashing." "Dad, hold it up high and run with it."
Kites have not always been playthings. In other times and places, they have been used to help catch fish, fight wars, fly people and lift heavy cable to build a bridge across the Niagara River. Benjamin Franklin, perhaps the most famous kite flier of all time, discovered electricity while flying a kite during a thunderstorm in 1752.
Kites have been used to record temperatures high above the earth, and the Wright brothers built several kinds of box kites to study winds and currents that helped lead to the development of the airplane.
However a kite might be used, the National Safety Council suggests the following guidelines for kite flyers: Don't use wire for a kite string.
* Fly your kite in a flat, open space, away from ditches, stones, trees, and poles.
* Watch out for automobiles.
* Stay away from electric wires. If your kite should fall over any wires, or if your string gets caught in wires, don't try to pull it free. Let it go. You can always make another.
* Don't climb into trees to get your kite if it gets caught.