In a southern Minnesota neighborhood, children run outside on windy days to see if any cows or pigs are floating by. No, they are not looking for wayward farm animals; they’re looking to the sky to see if Mr. Kite is flying one of his kites.
Craig Christensen, known to many as “Mr. Kite,” has always loved flight. A pilot, aircraft mechanic, and model airplane enthusiast – airplanes were his hobby. That is, until he bought a kite on a whim. He launched it one day, felt the tug of the string take his troubles into the wild blue yonder, and was hooked. Twenty years later, Christensen, who is president of the Minnesota Kite Society, has a collection of over 1,000 kites, his smallest the size of a postage stamp, his largest a 450-foot-long dragon. His colorful kites and signature top hat and tuxedo have made him a favorite at kiting events, but nowhere is he more popular than in his own neighborhood.
It doesn’t matter which kite he launches, a 25-foot-long flying pig, his 10×13-foot Japanese Rokkaku (a six-sided fighting kite), or a new creation he needs to test fly, the neighbor kids flock to Christensen’s yard when he unfurls a kite into the air. And, no matter their age or kite-flying experience, they all have the same reaction when they see his kites aloft. They stop in their tracks, look to the sky, and say, “Wow!”
Christensen makes most of his kites himself. A self-taught kite maker, he comes up with designs in his head, picks colors from his stash of spinnaker sailcloth, then cuts and sews strips of fabric together on his home sewing machine. The result is an original piece of artwork, a sight to behold in the air.
Yet, Christensen will put his award-winning kites aside to share his passion with anyone who will stop, watch, and listen. He speaks at elementary schools and Scout meetings, flies his kites for special occasions, and always has a bag of inexpensive kites for the neighbor kids to fly when they find their way into his yard.
“I enjoy working with kids,” he says. Like Santa, Christensen opens his bag of kites and hands them out to eager children. “I talk about different kinds of kites to fly in different kinds of wind and what they will do.” He assembles a bright red kite for a neighbor girl then walks with her into the yard, patiently instructing as they go. “Always have the wind to your back.” His voice is calm, like it alone could coax the kite to fly. “That’s right.” She clutches a little handle wrapped with kite string. Kids are running around, some with kites aloft, others working together to get one up in the air. There’s some knotted string, a kite that refuses to fly, but the children press on.
“Now, get ready…Here it goes!” Mr. Kite gives the kite a toss. The girl jumps with excitement. “Look, look!” She’s smiling as she points to her kite in the air.
Christensen smiles, too. He knows the kids are learning about kites, about teamwork. But, as another kite joins the laughter in the breeze, the kids aren’t thinking about life lessons, they’re just having fun.
When she’s not flying kites with her two children, Myrna C.G. Mibus writes stories and flies airplanes. Myrna’s writing has appeared in many regional and national publications including Chicken Soup for the Mother of Preschooler’s Soul.