Ill Winds: A Necessary Evil

I’ve made my peace with the cold. By this time of year, I’ve remembered all the tactics for staying unfrozen when it’s single digits outside–tricks with scarves and woolen things, mostly.

But I’ve never done very well accepting January wind. Being the most animated aspect of weather, wind seems alive and its intentions ignoble. At the same time, I realize the planet would not survive without the mixing effects of wind to stir the too hot into the too cold so that at least some places for a short while are Goldilocks “just right.”

I was once winter-blown so relentlessly for so long that I wrote about my foul-weather relationship with the wind. It is recorded in Slow Road Home, and I remembered it last night when he barn roof ruffled like thunder. 

Wind in winter

Last night the wind screamed overhead like a great circling bird, back and forth from ridge to ridge. Every now and then it would swoop down to clutch at our porch roof and ruffle the metal, making a strange rumbling studio-thunder sound effect. Then it would lift again and circle a thousand feet above us, coursing the high places round and round, sounding like a great locomotive caught in a switching yard right over Goose Creek. 

Summer winds throw angry tantrums like this just briefly, and only when performing the accompaniment to a summer thunder storm. A million green living leaves modulate the pitch and timbre of the wind, so that even in the summer gale there is a softness, a lifting and cleansing quality that is altogether missing from wind in winter. Summer wind appears at the height of the storm, strutting and fretting about briefly; and then it exits stage left and its pitch falls off, Doppler-like, and only a cooling breeze is left behind. I have no complaints to register against summer winds. 

But winter wind arrives here irritable and there is no cheering it up. Dense and gray, heavier than air, it sinks into our valley like a glacier of broken glass, pushing down against hard and frozen earth, and it will not relent. When the wind howls at midnight, I dream of the Old Man Winter of children’s books, his cheeks bloated full, lips pursed and brow furrowed, exhaling a malevolent blast below at frail pink children in wet mittens. 

If you listen, you may think you hear a tone to the roar of January wind, a discrete pitch of a note that you could find on a piano keyboard. But this isn’t so. In the same way all rainbow colors blend to make white light, January wind is the sound of all tones that nature can create,at once together as the Old Man overhead blows through a mouthpiece formed of ridge and ravine, across reeds of oak and poplar trunks. 

Winter wind is the white noise of January that won’t go away.

CAPTION: Mare’s tail cirrus, like pulled cotton, blown and stretched by the west wind. Painted with ProCreate for iPad from one of my photographs.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. Great picture! When my girls awake this morning I’ll show it to them, they will love it, and they’ll probably want an I-pad even more than they already do. I love the excerpt as well. I just requested Slow Road Home from Roanoke Valley Libraries rvl catalog…hopefully I’ll have it in a few days. Thanks!

  2. The man accepts the conditions, but the boy cries out “I wanna’ go outside and PLAY!”

    I have written and published a post this morning, checked both email accounts several times and visited my favorite forum. I sit here, dressed in wool, in front of my laptop thinking I should invent something to do to stave off the boredom.

    Half my kingdom for June!!

  3. I could never make my peace with cold and Winter, which is why I left the mountains (at least temporarily) for the beach. The cold combined with the claustrophobia of high mountains and no open space leads to madness, at least for me. The beach doesn’t offer the photographic opportunities of playing with light on diverse flora and fauna, but I’ll make the sacrifice just because I like my soup being too hot.

  4. I plainly remember reading that excerpt from Slow Road. What a picture it paints, of both summer and winter winds. I fondly remember the summer winds being just as you described, but I have blocked the memories of winter winds from my early childhood in Milwaukee and Detroit.

  5. It is colder here than we have had in 2 years and the wind is terrible today. I was not dressed warmly enough for it and nearly froze, so now I am in my chair with a blanket and a cup of hot tea.

  6. Fred, Your description of Summer wind reminds me of living in upstate New York for the first half of my life. You description of Winter wind also reminds me of living on Saratoga Lake also in NY when my daughters were both younger than 5. When that wind howled across the lake in January, one stood at attention. Our power would go out and then husband and I would bundled up our girls in blankets on the couch and he would make a fire in the fireplace in front of us and we would all snuggle in against the rattling window panes and the angry wind. One fierce January day I had to attend a funeral for a neighbor. Since we were a small group of brave families living year round on a “summer lake” just taking the girls outside to walk to the neighbors was a time consuming event of getting all the clothes on, taking them off once inside etc. I would put vaseline on my daughter’s cheeks because from prior experience the biting cold would chap her little face by the time we walked next door. That with scarf wrapped around her, eyes peeking through. Funny, until I read your post today, forgot those January days of long ago. I believe that youth has a resilience because looking back it all seemed like an adventure. Glad it was part and parcel of my life so far. Like your drawing too.