Sunday, November 12, 2006

Drunken Wind Walking

I have met winds before. In Indiana we practiced huddling under our desks as if a capricious wind that could pick up houses and trees and cars and drop them at will would be fooled by a desk. We lived with a bad tempered wind that could rage and bellow and howl and then bring in its wake sweet stillness. I have endured a wind that rocked my car like a wild woman at a cradle, whirled so many fragments of glass that it buffed the paint off, and then left us sitting peacefully in the naked car.

Spring in tornado alley was a season of dangerous winds but winter had its own special flavor—winds that created projectiles of ice that tortured any flesh not carefully covered with layers of wool and down and polypropylene.

I grew up with these capricious violent winds. I danced in the puddles of a gentle spring shower, defied the winter winds to fill the bird feeder or rescue a cat, and turned sideways to edge down a sidewalk when the winds could not be avoided. More than once, I sat out a storm in a basement when I had one, or an interior room away from glass. I have been tripped by the wind in mud, snow, ice, and now, cow manure. I have been bowled over once or twice, and I have been pinned immobile in the face of more force than all my will and mass could counter. And so I thought I knew a good deal about wind and moving in it before I came to Caithness.

Since coming here, I have met soughing winds—monotones that persist for days on end; hurrying winds, fast paced but not so bad natured as to cause more than inconvenience; and gales. I have learned to park facing into the wind so that the car door is not ripped out of my hands. When whitecaps appear on the ocean, I know the wind is at 50 miles per hour.

When I saw my first gale, I also learned that Homer knew what he was talking about when he described storms at sea turning the sea into foam. Morris took me to the shore at a safe enough distance to watch the foam rise up from the sea’s surface and be carried far inland like giant soap bubbles. I wanted desperately to touch it. An idiotic retreat to childhood drove me to try to open the door. The wind kept me safely out of its reach that time.

Saturday I was visiting a construction site on the foreshore of the Pentland Firth, where the North Sea and the North Atlantic join each other. The wind was whipping the sea to froth and many of the salty brown bubbles were drifting in and around the group of us huddled on a concrete platform above the shore. The air was full of salt tang even though it was moving quickly because the bubbles fell all around us constantly renewing the salt smell. I touched several and they were more like egg whites than soap bubbles. They did not pop and disappear but huddled timidly on my coat or fingers and dissolved, dying of a broken heart after having been kidnapped.

Because we were on a construction site, I was wearing a hard hat, safety glasses, and a borrowed pair of too-large safety shoes. I walked awkwardly but carefully. Even so the wind taught me a new trick. Between the time of lifting my foot and placing it on solid ground again, the wind blew hard enough to shift my foot slightly. This shift had the effect of a drunk walking carefully so as not to appear drunk: my foot, thus delayed, arrived after my torso had moved forward. It was not uncomfortable but disconcerting moving like Jackie Chan as drunken kung fu fighter.

A few hours after the wind played with me on the construction site, it ripped three men off an oil tanker at sea. A freak wave estimated at 100 feet in height as it broke over the bow meant this wind was playing rough: two of the men are dead, and the third is in critical condition.


At 12:42 AM, Anonymous ampiggy said...

I remember how hard it was to walk last July on top of the hill in Orkney. The wind was like a wall.

At 8:55 AM, Blogger landgirl said...

The image of the wind as wall is apt. Despite its nonmaterial nature, it can become obdurate and intransigent, a barrier.

At 10:25 PM, Blogger The Curmudgeon said...

What were you doing on the construction site? That sounds like a story too.

And a hundred foot wave? I don't think I can even imagine such a thing.

And good luck with your writers' group.

At 6:08 PM, Blogger landgirl said...

Dear Curmudgeon,
My curiosity has led me to many places even odder/riskier than the construction site. I can't/ don't want to imagine 100 ft wave. I recently read a phrase I think you'd like. A local poet said that we are not near the ocean we are part of it. Sooner or later it will claim us.

At 10:04 PM, Blogger The Curmudgeon said...

That language would send me scurrying to Nebraska: Try and find me there, ocean.

(On a windy day in Chicago, where the wind is raising waves of two feet on Lake Michigan, according to something I heard on the radio this morning....)

At 7:10 PM, Blogger landgirl said...

Hey, Curmudgeon, in a month I'll be checking out the waves on Lake Michigan. Before I ever saw an ocean I thought it was just like Lake M. but bigger. Pretty true.

At 5:29 PM, Blogger Hayden said...

I'm fascinated by the wind and how it shapes us... and the desire to experience it in many places (particularly the named winds) have always wanted to sit, hunkered down inside with the mistral battering at my windows. Have smelled/felt the smokey breath of the Santa Ana's as they've whipped a fire storm into a frenzy; another murderous wind not to be triffled with.

At 12:03 PM, Blogger landgirl said...

I have read about those winds. I think the fact that we name certain winds suggests how much respect/awe we have for them. Today we have a hurrying wind. last night it was throwing rain at the windows but not kicking up a big fuss. The easterly winds used to bring Vikings to this part of the world, so I guess rain is comparatively mild.

At 2:32 AM, Blogger Hayden said...

humm, I'm guessing that there were people in your part of the world that called that easterly, Viking-bringing wind "an ill wind that blows nobody good."

At 3:54 PM, Blogger landgirl said...

Oh, Hayden, that made me giggle. Some Vikings (actually "viking" is a verb meaning "to go wandering") so better to say Norsemen came in on the wind and settled here. So the wind that brought them was a good one but the next year's wind was trouble.


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