To the list of ways to play outdoors, add kite flying.
Or kite admiring, if you’re among those who head to Squalicum Harbor this time of the year to stare at the show put on by local fliers with deft hands and a love for what has been by turns a toy and a tool.
The kite has been around since the Chinese started flying them more than 2,000 years ago.
April is National Kite Month and one way to celebrate is to go to the harbor’s Zuanich Point Park where you might catch a glimpse of Bellingham resident Eric Coovert in action. The 44-year-old sells photo copiers for a living; he flies kites most weekends as a hobby, which explains why he has 50 of them.
“I like the colors. When you get a bunch of them out and you look at them in the sky it’s like a gigantic mural. I like to watch the tails flow in the wind,” Coovert says. “When the wind gets blowing pretty hard, blowing on the string, it kind of makes a whistling sound.”
That’s called “singing” when the lines do that, he says.
It was seeing them at Zuanich that rekindled Coovert’s interest in kites, which he had flown as a child. The park remains Coovert’s favorite place to fly.
“You’ve got the bay, you’ve got usually a pretty steady wind if the wind is blowing at all. You can see Mount Baker,” he says.
Then there are the boats and the islands off in the distance, he adds. Plus, there are few kite-eating trees and no electrical lines overhead.
Laura Rehberger, a receptionist for the Ferndale Public Works Department who flies kites with her children ages 3 and 5, also recommends Zuanich Point Park as a good place.
Her other recommendations are Hovander Homestead Park and Hastings Park, both in Ferndale, as well as Boulevard Park in Bellingham.
But she likes to go to Birch Bay State Park, where the family flies kites along the water.
And while kites are locked into many happy childhood memories, more adults fly kites worldwide than children, according to the World Kite Museum & Hall of Fame in Long Beach, Wash.
Those adults include Kay Buesing, director of the kite museum, who has been fascinated by kites ever since buying her husband one for Christmas in 1979.
“For me the multicultural part of kiting, plus its history, is fascinating. I continually learn new things,” she says. So do others who go to the museum, which has in its current exhibit kites from five different Asian countries — Japan, China, Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia — along with information on why inhabitants from each country fly them, the kinds of designs they put on them, and the materials they use.
“It has a great deal to do with their culture,” Buesing says.
The first written account of kite flying dates back to 200 B.C., when a Chinese general during the Han Dynasty flew a kite over a city’s walls to figure out how far his army would have to tunnel to get past its defense for an attack. They’ve been used for ages in warfare — for signaling to lifting observers to dropping propaganda leaflets.
They’ve provided hope to those who over the centuries have used them to lift offerings to their gods for prosperity, fertility and good harvest.
They were part of key scientific discoveries. Ben Franklin used them to prove that lightning was electricity. Scientific minds such as Alexander Graham Bell, Lawrence Hargrave and the Wright brothers used kites in experiments that eventually opened the way to the development of the airplane, according to the American Kitefliers Association.
Their use has changed over the years. But the wonder they’ve instilled is timeless.
“It’s almost breath-taking to see the strange shapes that can fly. It’s just amazing,” Buesing says.