Winter Wind – Nature’s exhilarating exhalation
by Susan M. Sander
Jan. 31, 2008, Center Point, Texas
Sometimes I remember to stop in my tracks and really look around, and take in the abundance of Life teeming in all the nooks and crannies. And there’s nothing like a good stiff wind to bring Nature back into lively focus, to shake off the dust of my complacency.
It’s the winds of January, and if I lived in Ghana we’d have a name for it, the harmattan, a northwest trade wind that lifts the Sahara Desert up, dust particle by dust particle, during the winter season (from November to March), often making shipping hazardous.
And sometimes Nature can exhale her breath with such force as to can literally blow the Sahara to our doorstep. On January 22, 2008 the NASA’s Aqua satellite captured such a dust plume blowing off Africa’s west coast (see it at http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Newsroom/NewImages/images.php3?img_id=17903.
Could that be what I saw (and felt in my eyes and lungs) on January 29 in central Texas? The sky was a dusty brown all day as the winds whipped loose anything not tied down. Valley views were obscured, edges soften (some were literally being worn away as I watched).
Since reading “The Secret Life of Dust: From the Cosmos to the Kitchen Counter, the Big Consequences of Little Things” by Hannah Holmes, my world view has been blown away – from viewing my dust bunnies from a different angle to seeing the wind made visible. It has grown from microscopic to global as Hannah explained the rivers of dust that migrate around the globe, lifting and depositing, Nature as the ultimate re-arranger, and wind as one of her many acts.
The dust we curse as we sneeze is a mixed blessing of soil particles and minerals, organic bits of plants and animals, as well as spores and seeds that help replenish soils and habitats, but can also contain pesticide residues as well as pollutants from vehicles and factories. Wind makes the Six O-clock news with allergen disclaimers, such as, “Be careful what you breathe.”
Folks in the Hill Country of Texas can literally view the winter winds through weepy eyes as the male Ashe Junipers (AKA cedar) let loose their small grain pollen for wild sex on the fly. If a light breeze or a bird landing on a branch can set off a smoky plume, a full force wind really stirs things up as it aids pollination.
I like how wind challenges my senses (and sometimes my ability to walk upright). There are the “vocalizations” borrowed as it weaves through branches and leaves, whirls around corners, howls up and down canyons, hums and drones punctuated by the rattle of swirling windmills, loose tin roofs, and tumbling garbage cans. It can overwhelm the songs of birds and every other creature. It can roar like a freight train as my step-sister found out when a tornado ravaged her house and neighborhood in Wisconsin recently.
Without wind the grasses in the far pasture would just be a tan background, but wind forces them to shimmer as they do the wave. A gust just sent a herd of dried leaves scurrying across a mowed field. A dried sycamore leaf skips and does cartwheels.
I grew up on the edge of a cattail marsh in northern Illinois that literally turn into a sea of green when winds pushed through it. And there’s nothing like a good old nor’wester on Lake Michigan to send waves rumbling onto limestone cobble beaches or crashing out of bounds against a bluff. It’s raw power, Nature having a wild day.
The power of air can literally take your breath away, stop you in your tracks, knock out power, knock down buildings and trees. Over the years I've watched how trees “dance” differently in the wind: some flounce up and down, others sway, and some just shudder. The flexible will survive with their structural parts intact; those that resist will suffer cracks and crashes.
Wind constantly tests the riders in the sky. A flock of red-wing blackbirds had to bank around upwind before landing on a bird feeder. American goldfinches flap in place as they try to land against the wind. Pine siskins cling tightly to the thistle sock as it gyrates. A gust of wind disrupts the smooth sailing of the vultures.
It’s the last day of January, time to blow out the old to blow in something new.