'Wishes for the Sky' a kite-flying Earth Day tribute

Marcus Young
Marcus Young is the creator of "Wishes For the Sky," an Earth Day event on Harriet Island. People write wishes on kites and fly them.
MPR Photo/Chris Roberts

Most people don't share what they wish for. Even on birthdays, when you blow out the candles, you keep your wish to yourself — especially if you want it to come true.

Artist Marcus Young, with the group "Grace Minnesota," doesn't think that's very healthy, for us as individuals or as a society. So he took creative action.

If you're passing by St. Paul's Harriet Island around midday on Sunday, you will probably see that creative action in the sky — dozens of kites aloft with wishes written on them. The event is called "Wishes For the Sky," and it's being held in conjunction with Earth Day.

"We felt that we needed a civic, a very public ritual to practice good wish-making," Young said.

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Young sounds almost like a psycho-analyst when he explains why that need exists.

"I don't think we know ourselves very well," he said.

Events like "Wishes For the Sky," are what Young specializes in.

As city artist-in-residence for St. Paul, he came up with the sidewalk poetry project, which imprints the poems of residents onto freshly poured St. Paul sidewalks.

Wishes For the Sky
"Wishes For the Sky" is an Earth Day event on Harriet Island. People write wishes on kites and fly them.
Photo courtesy Grace Minnesota

"Wishes for the Sky" has been held for the last five years on or near Earth Day, to help people publicly express their wishes, for the earth, and for themselves.

"A wish, what is a wish?" Young asked. "Let's break it down. It's ourselves, our good selves, talking to us."

Young strongly believes that we need to take time from our busy lives and listen to what our hearts are telling us.

"I think that really can change the world," he said.

But for wishes to change the world, they have to be in the world, at least symbolically. The kites are actually Young's plan b.

"I would teach people to write their wishes on clouds," he said.

Kites are the next best thing. They transport the wishes into the air and wind.

"Wishes For the Sky" has flown more than 4,000 wishes since it started. Some have been environmentally minded, others more personal.

"I wish for sweet grasses and butterflies."

"I wish I will get accepted into the college I want to go to and succeed in life."

"I'm wishing for a future I'm not afraid to live in."

"I wish for money for music lessons for my children."


This year's wish making begins Sunday at 11 a.m. with two kite-born wishes, the first from Minnesota's eldest citizen. When Marcus Young first approached 111-year-old Anna Stoehr of Elgin, she resisted. Anna's daughter-in-law Marlene Stoehr said Anna told her:

" 'I don't wish for things, I think we just do things,' " Marlene Stoehr remembered. "She's kind of practical ... just a practical farm woman and this idea of wishing is not in really her way of thinking."

When Marlene Stoehr suggested that Anna think of the wish as a prayer, Anna was more willing to get involved. Anna's son Harlan recites what Anna and Marlene came up with.

"I wish people would treat others like they themselves would want to be treated," read Harlan Stoehr. "We should pray for everyone, especially the wayward ones, the poor, the hungry, and those that have not been connected with the word of the Lord."

The second wish-on-a-kite, said artist Marcus Young, will come from the family of Sunday's first born child in St. Paul.

"I go the hospital, and I very sort of timidly ask the mother who has just given birth a few hours earlier to give us a wish to bring to Harriet Island," he said.

In addition to the 'wishes on kites' ritual, people will be encouraged, as a mindfulness exercise, to watch the Mississippi River. According to Young, you just sit down by the water, stay quiet, and watch it go by.

"If you let that happen for about 10 or 15 minutes or more, you will feel like a different person altogether," he said.

After talking about the metaphoric power of the wishes on kites, and the zen-like quietude of the river watching, Youmg pauses.

"I don't want to make it sound like one one big meditation, which some people may think is kind of boring," he said. "Actually, it's a great deal of fun to come out here with your friends or your family, and to fly kites for the day."