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November, 2002

Why I Like the Wind

by Valerie

It's autumn. The leaves swirl around me as I'm gathering them off the lawn. The cool breeze feels refreshing on my face and the air smells clean and crisp. The sun is warm, but the movement around me mixes everything up so it combines into a potpourri of stimuli. There is a brief whiff of the loquat tree, blooming a second time this year. The next gust brings a downpour of small, bright gold leaves from our chinaberry tree. A neighbor's wind chime sounds every so often. All I have to do is be still and listen, smell, feel and watch.

Val playing with the wind,
Florida, 1970

Moving air is one of those things that is so ubiquitous that it is often scarcely noticed. Of course we are surrounded by an atmosphere. Of course it flows and shifts and changes. And sometimes, it stops. It is almost more noticeable when the air does NOT move, much like the villagers in a story being awakened to intruders when all the dogs in their little town STOPPED their barking. One of the most alien aspects of being in a cave is the complete stillness. The air is calm in our homes. Except for the fans we use, or the opening and closing of doors, or the breeze that tumbles a piece of paper to the floor when we walk past. And, if we open a window, well, it is rather obvious. Even in our houses, which are tiny microcosms compared to the world in general, there is appropriately scaled down wind. It might be in miniature, but it's there.

Perhaps I like the wind because I grew up in the vicinity of "The Windy City." There really is an almost constant stiff breeze coming in off Lake Michigan, no matter what time of year. Wind was often a force to be considered, whether we were camping and had to make sure the tent was secure, biking in the flat, open cornfields of central Illinois (where pedaling against the wind was more challenging than going up steep hills), or canoeing. One of the reliable rules of canoe trips is that the wind is always blowing into your face. If you are on a downstream river run, it will always blow upstream, no matter how many times the river turns.

A multitude of our experiences outdoors are affected by the wind. We listen to aspens chatter, pines whisper, and palms rustle. The wind can also uproot massive trees, cause our biggest buildings to sway, and create our weather. The contrast between a still, foggy morning, and a breezy mid afternoon is one of those delightful details too easily taken for granted. The constant fluctuations of the clouds, the drifting of milkweed seeds, and an albatross soaring are manifestations of a force we can only perceive visually through secondary means.

The wind uses tools: it can chisel rocks into sinuous sculptures using only tiny grains of sand. It can drive snow to form enormous drifts and cause the water of the oceans to pile up into waves many stories tall. We, in turn, harness the powers of the wind, with our kites, gliders, windmills, and sailboats. We depend on the wind to bring us rain as well as carry away our pollutants. The wind can be aesthetically pleasing or violently destructive. It can transport new life to barren lands, pollinate flowers, or help amorous animals find each other. At the other extreme, it is the major force behind wind chill factors, tornadoes, hurricanes, and pyroclastic flows.

Most of the time, though, the wind merely enhances our lives. The smell of salt water is apparent miles from the ocean, luring us on to where we can actually feel the damp breeze as it moistens our faces. When we are overheated, there is nothing more welcome than that moving air. The sight of huge fields covered with rolling waves of grain is almost synonymous with bounty. It would be a much different world were it not for the way our lively atmosphere, flowing, twisting, and swirling, is in endless motion.

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