3 min read

Garlands of Aerial Flotsam

The now-naked forms of trees are revealing summer’s detritus in their twiggy grasp.
A dragon kite tangled in the bare branches of a sweetgum tree.

The leaves have fallen, but not gone. Eddying swirls chase the steps of hurried jaywalkers. Heaping clumps defy the street sweepers, clogging drains and moldering under parked cars. Above, the now-naked forms of trees are revealing summer’s detritus in their twiggy grasp. The plastic bag ban has thinned the serried ranks of tattered pennants, but banners still trumpet “HANK YO” and “HAVE A NIC.” Mylar balloons from block parties and birthday parties and remembrance parties hang like the heads of waning revelers on a 6am subway. Tarps blown astray from construction sites drape their bulging, blue coils over branches—giant pythons strangling the trunks that bear them.

In parks on the edges of broad lawns or sometimes on street trees near playgrounds are lost kites tangled too high to reach. Their colors fading through the effects of sun and rain, sometimes with long tails still flapping in the wind, the kites even now long to fly. When temperatures drop, they recall warmer days when picnics, barbecues, soccer matches, volleyball, and some twee croquet contests played out on the green grass. Someone brought their kite here—maybe ran with it, let the wind lift it from their hands. It fluttered and shook and glided into a blue sky where the blazing sun obliterated thoughts of any season but an endless summer. And then it broke free and took off on its own.

Maybe it has journeyed far; it flew across the city, taking in the view from above, watching cars snake around the expressways and people juggling iced coffees in their hands and dog leashes jangling on their wrists. Maybe it only got a few moments of levitation before it crashed into the branches and was hidden by the leaves. Take a moment if you see one of these forgotten kites, all alone up there. They await summer’s return and its swift winds that let people for a moment feel they can lift away from the earth and make things soar.

Selection from a US Patent Gazette showing patent no. 5,556,538: "Apparatus and Method for Removing Plastic Bags and Other Debris From Trees." Illustration shows a hook-like device.
A patented device for your plastic snagging needs, co-invented by the New Yorker’s Ian Frazier (via the Official Gazette of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office).
  • A few plastic-snagging vigilantes have roamed New York streets over the years. The above-mentioned Ian Frazier and a rowdy crew of his friends scoured trees in the ‘90s with their plastic picker. A Brooklyn poet dubs himself the Plastic Bagman and his trusty tool, the Snatchelator. Will you join their ranks? Use these lengthening, cold nights to dream up an invention of your own.
  • Designer Sho Shibuya started a collection of NYC’s plastic bags, guided by “the Japanese concept of yaoyoruzu no-kami, or “eight million gods,” a belief that every item has a god living inside and should be respected.”
  • Kite pioneer William Abner Eddy was a senior accountant and journalist at the New York Herald. He invented the “Diamond Eddy,” a tailless kite drawing on Javanese designs, and used it to measure temperature, wind speed, and other atmospheric conditions at significant heights, as well as capture some of the first aerial photos of Washington, DC and New York. In the late 1890s, a train of eight kites tied together escaped from Eddy’s usually-sure hands and drifted across New York Bay. He chased them via ferry and train, finally catching up when they snagged on a telegraph wire. Perhaps, somewhere in the city, one of Eddy’s stray kites is still nestled deep in a tree. Keep your eyes peeled, for now is the season to find it.