The first step in the assembly of a beetle kite is the acquisition of the beetle. If you find yourself residing in the southwestern United States or Mexico, I suggest you look for a Cotinus Mutablis, or figeater beetle. They can be found feeding near any tree or plant which produces a sweet fruit (the riper the better). I’ve personally had the most success with cacti.
In the southeast your best bet is the Cotinus Nitidia, or June beetle. While considerably duller in presentation compared to their shiny western cousin, the June beetle will do in a pinch and can also be found on ripe or rotting fruits.
Once you have eyes on your beetle, you may consider using a mason jar or other cylindrical container for easy capture and storage (remembering of course to poke holes in the top of your lid so as to not suffocate your beetle). The more experienced beetle hunter may forgo the jar in favor of the bare handed method, but if you choose to do so remember to have your string already handy at your side.
To tie your knot, gently pinch your beetle by its sides and loop the string around its body behind its first two sets of front legs, all the while being careful not to cover the part of its torso shielding the wings. Additionally, make sure to tie your knot an inch or two away from the beetle, leaving enough room to easily set it free using scissors unharmed after you’ve finished your flight.
Now that you’ve assembled your living kite, stand back and wait for the beetle to do its part (some gentle prodding might be necessary in order to induce flight). Yes, the end result is just a beetle on string, but like most things the satisfaction in beetle hunting comes from the journey, not the end result.
The best beetle hunter I have ever had the pleasure of knowing was my grandfather. He honed his craft as a young boy playing alongside his twelve brothers and sisters on their family farm just outside of Damascus. His native beetle was of a different variety, but the basic mechanics remain the same.
Some sixty odd years later, he would pass on his beetle knowledge to me and my siblings, this time hunting in the two acre garden attached to his Malibu home. He was the only one of his siblings to leave Syria. I’m named after his younger brother who died shortly before I was born due to complications resulting from an easily treated bacterial infection. My grandpa fought to bring him to California for medical treatment, but time and time again his visa was blocked.
My grandpa didn’t know the word beetle, so he referred to them onomatopoetically as “zeez” after the buzzing sound produced as they zipped back and forth, constrained by the string. I remember one time in elementary school shouting “look, a zeez!” on the playground while my friends stared at me, puzzled. At the time it hadn’t occurred to me that the word was my grandpa’s own creation.
I’ve been thinking about zeezes a lot recently. When I first heard about the controversy around John Bolton coming to speak on campus, my initial reaction was indifference. Do I agree with his politics? No, but if Duke wants to have him speak on campus what do I care? Let the AGS blowhards have their fun for an afternoon.
But then I thought about how disappointed my grandpa would be to hear me say that if he were still alive. I thought about how my indifference is only made possible because he left Syria before American intervention in the region set off a chain of events which would eventually leave his family home in rubble and surviving relatives spread out across Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt.
My grandpa’s younger brother is also survived by a grandson named Sami who turned five this past September. I got to grow up catching beetles in Malibu. Barring a significant change, he’ll grow up catching not-so-different beetles in Cairo under refugee status. Compared to many, he’s lucky. My grandma is able to send his parents money that they aren’t able to earn in Egypt as refugees.
Look, I’m still an entitled piece of shit like 99.9% of the time. I have no plan to stop complaining about the food in West Union or how Dean Sue was being a total narc when she wouldn’t let us burn that bench. But the least I can do is not be indifferent towards a war criminal. I owe my grandpa that.
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Sami Kirkpatrick is a Trinity senior. His column runs on alternate Thursdays.