Window in the Sky
How and why an event happens has always intrigued me as much as the event itself, if not more. So, here’s how I came to write this book.
It was a dismal gray northeastern day in late November, and not particularly inviting weather for flying kites. Nevertheless, I packed my pinstripe delta that morning and drove several miles to a wooded park that had a large field. When I arrived at the upwind edge of the field, all was strangely quiet. The touch football games that usually monopolized the park this time of year were conspicuously absent. No doubt the combination of the cold weather and the preparations for the imminent annual turkey fete were keeping people at home that day. I began unrolling the kite, which was as drab as the day I had chosen to fly it.
A week earlier, when I was eager to build this kite, the yards of colored ripstop nylon I had ordered for the sail were delayed in the mail, so I decided extreme measures were necessary. I went to my dresser drawer and removed four new Brooks Brothers white cotton button-down shirts with gray pinstripes. I laid them out on a worktable near the sewing machine and sacrificed them. I had no remorse. I had my sail material.
The subject of kites entered my life the previous July, at a surprise party for my thirtieth birthday. A friend had given me a long tube containing a kite. At the time I thought: What and odd gift for an adult. I put the kite away and forgot about it until one Sunday morning several weeks later when I had an itch to be outdoors but nothing special to do until I remembered the kite. So, with the cardboard tube slung over my shoulder like a quiver, I rode my bike to the nearby vacant parking lot.
A wind from the north blew steadily. I opened the tube, removed the kite, and put it together. In an instant, the kite caught me off-guard. It leapt from my hand, tugging and pulling until it wrestled free. As I stood there holding the line and watching the kite soar upwards, a totally unanticipated euphoria overcame me. I was elated and puzzled. I felt in balance, simultaneously grounded and elevated. Enthralled with what I had thought was merely a child’s toy, I lost all track of time and flew the kite till sunset. I pedaled home that evening, feeling weightless, harmoniously sandwiched between yin and yang, knowing there was more to kite flying than met the casual eye.
Now it was nearly Thanksgiving. It didn’t matter that the skies remained gray and the field empty. I was occupied with assembling my pinstripe delta. With a gentle breeze at my back, I released the kite to its fate. I had never liked those shirts and wished them well in their new incarnation. The kite pulled away from me, taking line from my reel in fluid motion. Eventually, my delta found a smooth and steady air stream about 1,000 feet up and fixed itself at a high angle of flight. Occasionally fluttering but mostly still, my handiwork seemed painted on an expensive overcast canvas.
After a while, my white triangle in the sky began to shimmer like a mirage in the desert. At first I thought the sun was trying to break through the cloud cover, but it wasn’t. When the shimmering ceased, the kite appeared up close, as if I were peering at it through powerful binoculars. Instead of the solid object it had been a moment ago, my erstwhile shirts had become what I can only describe as a transparent triangular window.
I rubbed my eyes. It was still there. A three-dimensional hole, like the side of a pyramid, had opened up in the sky. Beyond the window, I saw a landscape of geometric shapes and forms, familiar yet curiously unidentifiable. My kite had become a lens—an acute focal point balanced or caught between realities. Was I looking in or out? Was anyone looking back? The possibilities were staggering.
The window in the sky remained, and the geometric objects beyond, whatever they were, spun about in slow motion. I stood there for a long time until it began to make sense.
The sky had become a blank envelope for both an address and sufficient postage. And this kite was a surreal stamp—the kind minted only in dreams—and a realm beyond the frontier became the address. As if this were not enough, the kite itself seemed to breathe in cadence with my own breath.
As the background shapes and forms began to take on definition, the shimmering effect returned and the scene dissolved as in a dream. I squinted. But, the magic window that had appeared at arm’s length had turned back into ordinary Oxford cloth, and was now far away at the end of my kite line. After several minutes, I accepted that the phenomenon had ended. I packed up my kite and rode off across the field. A wide gap broke in the clouds, and a full moon lit the way home.
San Francisco, ten years later: I was sitting in the living room of an apartment in the Fillmore district when, for no apparent reason, someone handed me a hefty-sized book called Synergetics: Explorations in the Geometry of Thinking by R. Buckminster Fuller. I had heard Fuller’s name intermittently over the years in conjunction with his architectural invention of the geodesic dome. As I held the book, it occurred to me that the last time I had seen his name in print was the obituary column. I flipped open to a page randomly. There staring back at me were shapes and forms—those familiar geometric patterns I had nearly made out in a vision years ago. I thumbed through more pages. There were triangles, tetrahedrons, and elongated diamonds, as well as combinations of forms ranging from simple to complex. I yelled: This guy’s drawings are kites!
The scope of Fuller’s thought was astounding. He was a transcendentalist, sorcerer, inventor, philosopher, poet, and mathematician. The essence of Synergetics, to paraphrase its author, is this: There’s no way of predicting the purpose or behavior of the whole by examining its parts individually.
In turn, by examining the separate elements of a kite, there’s no way to predict one of its collective effects—the pleasure it can bring to a kite flier. That’s synergy.
Fuller says that the four-sided polyhedron, the tetrahedron, is the basic structural unit of the physical universe. It occurs conceptually, independent of events and independent of relative size—the great pyramids of Giza and my triangular pinstripe delta kite.
I finally had a theory, if not the explanation, of my strange experience in the park years ago. Although I didn’t know why it happened, I did know that my kite had become a triangular window into the structure of reality. I was inspired to write this book.»