At the front window, the dogs stand with their tails in the air and a ridge of hair raised along their backs. They are on alert, poised to protect us from the dangers posed by blowing bits of paper and leaves, and whatever else might happen along on this windy day. They pace the floor. They follow me around the house and never quite settle into their usual mid-day naps.
I have no claim to experience with the harsh Flagstaff spring winds, really. In 1986, the first year we lived here, we rented a house east of town, near the old fire station on Townsend-Winona Road. But the house was set back from the road in the pinons and junipers, and we never felt the full force of those relentless Doney Park winds.
By the next spring, we had moved into town.
One night a few weeks ago I dreamt that our possessions were stacked out on the back patio. The wind was whipping our belongings up the hill behind our house, papers, clothing and furniture alike, defying gravity. The howling woke me up and I wondered what (or who) was trying to get in.
As disturbing as it can be, the wind carves out the spaces between us, and by doing so, defines us. It raises the hairs on our arms and helps us know where our edges are. The wind and water carve away at us like we’re sandstone, reducing us to our gorgeous essences, some of our mysteries laid bare, others around the next bend, just out of sight.
The wind moves us along, if our sails are poised to receive it.
Before my friend Conny died, she imagined herself as the wind and said we’d remember her when the wind blew. Standing in the cemetery on the day of her funeral, the gusts embraced us like parting hugs, blowing our scarves and hair around, blowing pine needles off the trees, and reminding us that she was there in spirit.
There’s no app for that.
Our back yard now is sheltered from the wind by a rocky ridge that offers some protection, even if it does shorten our daylight on winter afternoons. On chilly days, I can sit on the sheltered bench at the back of the house to catch the sun and watch the wind wafting filaments of spider web around. Far above me, the wind summons music from the tops of the trees and whispers the names of the living and the dead.
Is there a stream of ideas that blows through our world? Both Bob Dylan and Bill Monroe referred to it at various times in their careers. Monroe said something like this: “Those melodies are just floating around in the air. You just gotta reach up and grab ‘em.”
Further proof of the existence of the stream of ideas comes from an interview with Tom Waits, who “believes that if a song ‘really wants to be written down, it’ll stick in my head. If it wasn’t interesting enough for me to remember it, well, it can just move along and go get in someone else’s song.’”*
When the air is still, a benevolence hangs in the air. Windy days offer a different energy: dynamic, forceful, vitalizing as breath. Can I learn to embrace these qualities, rather than lock myself away from those agitating winds? I imagine those particles of ideas in the swirl of half and half that I pour into my freshly stirred mug of tea: a tempest of emotion and melody and color waiting to be courted by a lowly writer or artist.
Daily, I carry my seedlings—tomatoes, kale, basil, tomatillos in case you were wondering—outside to gather the sun. Barely two inches high, they grow stockier and stronger with the buffeting, as do I. My afternoon walk through the neighborhood reminds me I’m due for a haircut: my bangs blow around my face, making me look and feel like a mad, wild creature.
Today the tempest wins.
*This comes from a fascinating interview with Tom Waits, Play It Like Your Hair’s On Fire, written by Elizabeth Gilbert (who also wrote “Eat Pray Love”), which appeared in the June 2002 issue of GQ magazine.