view from the hill

A look at the elements and events that come into view from where I'm standing...
... the stuff that matters in this life. Some flicker and are gone in a matter of hours
only to live in memory, others become life long travelling companions, never far from reach.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

When Will these Winds Cease Their Incessant Whistling?

Each year at some time or another the Santa Ana winds howl down out of the high deserts, and whistle their raspy breath through Southern California. I’ve hated these winds ever since I first encountered them when I was a freshman at Chapman. I’d never witnessed anything like it before. The air is dry with that horrible high pressure crispness that makes your skin dry and hair brittle. Nerves are on end, people are agitated. I get headaches. It’s January and it’s HOT! I guess the Indians used to call them the Devil Winds and I can see why.

So, they’ve been blowing for days now, pinning us inside like we’re trapped by a raging hurricane. This is ridiculous. It’s the worst wind season yet. A couple years ago we all built that pergola out back pretty sturdy, but it’s swaying and creaking like an old ship. Trash cans and heavy planters have flown all over the garden. Part of the neighbor’s fence blew down. These are serious winds. We figure it’s been a pretty consistent 50 – 60 mph, with gusts up to 80.

What better time then, with the wind literally whistling in the thin chimney, to read some John Muir? 100 years ago, he too was caught in a violent wind storm, high in the Sierras. Being who he was he didn’t stay huddled inside, he decided to go for a hike to hear the “passionate music” and “grand anthem” of the pine trees at the height of it all. And of course, he wasn’t happy to stay on the ground, … it occurred to me that it would be a fine thing to climb one of the trees to obtain a wider outlook and get my ear close to the Aeolian music of its topmost needles.

treewindHe stayed up in his perch for hours, and never before did I enjoy so noble an exhilaration of motion. The slender tops fairly flapped and swished in the passionate torrent, bending and swirling backward and forward, round and round, tracing indescribable combinations of vertical and horizontal curves, while I clung with muscles firm braced, like a bobolink on a reed. He really relished in this, describing the glint of the light, the scents that were blown from miles away, the sound of the howling wind all around him.

So, sitting on my couch, good ol’ JM was the perfect accompaniment to the gale outside. And finally, inspired by him, I lost no time in pushing out into the woods to enjoy it. For on such occasions Nature has always something rare to show us, and the danger to life and limb is hardly greater than one would experience crouching deprecatingly beneath a roof. Plus, I was sick of being cooped up inside. I would go out there and go for a hike, wind be damned.

At times I was almost blown over backwards, my breath stolen from me. It was like the sensation of trying to breath while sticking your head out the window of a speeding train. I hiked up in the hills behind the house with my inner John Muir spurring me on. Honestly, I think the worst of it was over. By the evening it would be a lot calmer. But for a while there, I was out in it, defying it. The red-tailed hawks were nowhere to be seen (smart ones), even the daredevil ravens weren’t around. The giant pines and eucalyptus grove were making a hell of a noise. And there was me, staggering along like a drunkard against all this wind.

johnmuir It was great to be out there, imagining huge great sheets of air cascading over the mountains and funneled through the canyons. Most people like to look at mountain rivers, and bear them in mind; but few care to look at the winds… So, thanks JM for getting me off the couch and out into it. I don’t think I’ll ever look forward to the Santa Anas, but it was good to get outside and take a look at the winds.

Check out JM here


Blogger Mrs. Han Solo said...

I think my dad would like these. And I don't miss the Santa Ana winds AT ALL!! Sorry for your pain and annoyance.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006  

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