Mar 6, 2012
The wind roars in a way that’s at once machine-like and animal. As manufactured as the sound of a jet engine readying for takeoff and as organic as the throbbing pant of a lion. There’s a rhythmic asymmetry to the ascension and declension of sound that attracts the ears and draws the mind toward it. Like jazz, the music of the wind is an aural riddle. As I wash a glass, chop potatoes, pull on my boots, I find myself stopped mid-action by an unexpected change, a new layer in the pattern. Unaware how hard I’m listening until I feel a little thrill of recognition: Aha! Uh-huh. I got it. It occurs to me that this is the auditory equivalent of completing one layer of a Rubick’s Cube. The only way to get the next layer is to let the first one go. To trust the pattern to reveal it again.
All of this is to say that the sound of the wind distracts me.
There’s a patting-my-head while rubbing-my-stomach aspect to anything I undertake when the wind displays its roaring glory. Even as I sit here at my desk and observe great puffs of dry snow lifted from the white earth, whipped and whirled into a vision-obscuring cloud, and dissipated in an instant, it is the sound that accompanies this transient tumult that occupies me. It is the sound that becomes an itch I can’t reach quite long enough to give it a satisfactory scratch. It is the sound that I try to understand even as my rational mind tells me that the only hope for understanding (much less getting anything else accomplished) is to stop trying.
Stop listening to the wind as if it were trying to teach me a lesson and start listening as if it were Billie Holiday or Sarah Vaughan singing well-past midnight in an underground bar. Music isn’t found in individual notes. The essence of a thing can’t be found in its parts. There are occasions when further inquiry is downright destructive. Rip tides ask only that you swim with them. Allegheny wind is much the same.
In a winter less wintry than any I can remember, today fully qualifies for the season even as it nears its end. Whereas this time last year I had come to look at the monochrome landscape—a flat white reflection of the sunless sky—with the same cowering humility a servant might beg her master’s pardon, today I embrace the blanketing white, so seldom seen this season. Snow a presence made welcome by the simple fact that it hasn’t been around.
We’ve had some bitter cold temperatures. A handful of mornings when Cosmo’s water bowl on the sunporch was frozen solid. A couple wicked days in January and February when I had to change out the chicken-waterer every few hours. That single January weekend when the wind at the garden gusted upwards of 50 mph, the temperature hovered around five degrees Fahrenheit, and I found myself so very thankful for the six inches of snow that preceded the rising winds. By piling and packing the snow against the sides and top of the visqueen-wrapped chicken run, I was able to keep the girls quite snug in their Allegheny igloo—and prevent the whole contraption from blowing away!
That January wind was a wind to be obeyed, without question or equivocation, and most especially without delay. A grandfather wind I trifled with at my peril. Subtle? No. Unforgettably instructive. I got the message loud-and-clear: Hey, kid, I brought you into this world; I can take you out. Whatever else might be said about it, it’s a message that focuses the mind.
Such slap-me-upside-the-head instruction has been relatively rare these past three months. The mainstay of Allegheny Mountain winters, the capacity to endure—feet of snow, weeks of sunless days, clear and present danger, inability to go anywhere—has been replaced with something entirely different, the capacity to adapt to a constant state of flux. This winter, the weather has been my bi-polar roommate, recently discovered to be schizo-affective to boot! Thirty-degree temperature swings in 24 hours. Snow. Rain. Sun. Ice. Mud. Wind. Snow. Mud. Rain. Sun. Don’t get me wrong, after last winter’s persistent gloom, the sunshine has been nothing short of a miracle, and I’ve loved every minute of it. I’m not complaining! Just stating a fact: the refusal of this season to settle has left me unsettled as well.
This winter’s colors haven’t been white and grey, black and lichen green, colors of introspection, colors of “sitting-with.” This winter’s colors have been burnt umber and ochre, wheat and chestnut brown, butter gold and periwinkle blue. This winter’s colors have been those of “getting-up-and-going,” colors that invite action, that promise results, that—not at all unlike a guy on a Manhattan street shoving a flyer in my hands as I walk by—offer a once-in-a-lifetime deal I might, just might regret I missed. This winter has offered a chance to get ahead, to game the system, to do more meeting-and-greeting on bonus time, time stolen from the season, time I’m really not supposed to have.
I must admit I’ve found the colors of this season impossible to refuse.
Today, looking out on one of my favorite winter scenes: the black-and-white silhouette of Spruce Knob through the snow covered branches of the maple, hickory, red oak, white ash and black birch that line path to Wiley Way, I wonder at the cost of such refusal.
The “going-in deep” that is the gift of Allegheny winter has been, this season, a gift refused, and thus a gift denied. The here-to-fore forced winter hibernation from worldly engagement that provides the fuel for spring industry has not occurred this season, replaced instead with the near-constant travels and meetings the mild weather has allowed. I don’t sit here today regretful of my choices. I do sit here mindful of the message of the seasons, and the nature of time that is the essence of each one.
There is a season designed for every endeavor. Despite what the man-made world might lead us to believe, every day is not interchangeable with any other. Whether or not the ground freezes, fields lie fallow because the earth must rest and recover before it can bloom again.
I can’t help but wonder if my lack of fallow time this strange non-winter will exact some unforeseen cost come summer. A human version of weak soil.
This afternoon, the snow falls harder, creating a whitescape etched in pen-and-ink and entirely obscuring Spruce Knob. On the deck railing lie several inches of snow kicked through here and there by juncos crafting their own personal high-walled condos.
The courage to stay still—for a moment, day, week, month, or season—is the courage to look Nature in the face and hold Her eyes.
How the man-made world wants to divert my gaze! Oh, how it slaps flyers in my hands and screams in my ears! How effectively it beckons! Even here, yes, even here, on an Allegheny mountaintop, without phone or television. Even here, I find it all too easy to look away from Her. Even here, and despite all that I know.
And what I know is this: Any season of my life that I don't engage Her is a season fundamentally wasted, regardless what worldly spoils I might have to show for my time away. Mere dust in a mighty Allegheny wind.
To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, a time to reap that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.