GO FLY A KITE! Words our Lee Cowan has taken to heart:
Iowans aren't ones to waste a winter, and in Clear Lake they are especially clear-eyed about how best to use their icy environs.
You see, here a frozen lake is an opportunity. At least that's how Kay and Larry Day see it. "There's no better flying field than a frozen lake," said Kay.
Yes, as in kite flying, where the frigid wind gives a lift to the spirit. "There's nothing better. And besides that, the colors look so beautiful against the ice and snow," she said.
This is home to the Color the Wind Kite Festival, a kaleidoscope at the end of a string. Its purpose is pure pleasure -- a distraction from the monotony of the season.
"It's near the end of winter; people are cooped up all winter here in Northern Iowa, and they want to get outside," said Larry. "They have cabin fever."
"And this is the cure?" asked Cowan.
"It's one of the cures, sure!" he laughed.
Here, pigs really do fly (as do sharks and dogs). Scuba divers share the air with schools of floating fish. Dragons hover, sans their fiery breath. And a trio of cats face their whiskers into the wind.
"There's a lot of smiles here today," Larry said. "You're even smiling, Lee, ya' know?"
Larry came up with the idea for a winter kite show some 17 years ago, in part because he had more kites than he knew what to do with. He owes more than a hundred, including a spinning "ground bouncer," as he calls it.
His signature is a 40-foot-tall teddy bear. "I don't want to go fly my big kites when there's only 10 people there," he said. "Kinda like you, you want an audience right?"
"Yeah, we do want an audience, that's right!"
"I know you do!"
But there was more to it than that. This town has been pretty good to the Days over the years. While Clear Lake is a popular summer resort, they wanted create something to help bring tourists here even when the temps are in the teens.
"We had no idea it was going to grow to this extent," said Larry. "7-8 thousand people, in a town of 8,000? That's quite a few people!"
Yes it is, and they all seemed to be on that frozen lake at once -- despite the "thin ice" warning signs.
Cowan asked, "That doesn't make you nervous?"
"We're on 12 inches of ice. We're not going anywhere!" laughed Larry. "All these guys drove their cars out here today."
Sean Beaver was a tad nervous at first. But he soon found out that ice was more than just thick. Holes drilled through the ice allow wooden beams to be dropped through that anchor the biggest kites to Earth -- some of them longer than two school buses.
"They're almost like Macy's Day Parade-like structures," Sean said. No helium needed; just the wind and some open space.
Overhead was Bucky, his 100-foot flying beaver.
It's all pretty mesmerizing, especially when you see what some kites can do in the right hands. Paul Koepke is with the stunt flying team Fire and Ice that puts Ben Franklin to shame.
They maneuver their kites in a tightly synchronized dance across the sky -- somehow without getting their lines tangled.
"It's like you're connected to the heavens," said Paul. "Yeah, you're flying something, it's almost like you're on the kite."
What Kay and Larry Day have done with their frigid kite festival is give the Iowa wind a shape; a place for it to do more than blow in another winter storm, and instead color the sky with the breath of spring to come.
When asked if it's worth it, Larry replied, "Yes. I don't care if you're three or you're 93. It's peaceful, makes me smile, and it was fun!"
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Story produced by Mark Hudspeth.