Wind in Winter

Old Man Winter of children's books ~ oak leaf in ice

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.

Now 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.

From Slow Road Home ~ a Blue Ridge Book of Days by Fred First / Goose Creek Press 2006

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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. Lovely Fred. I of course have no memory of reading this in Slow Road Home, as I have trouble remembering yesterday, so I was happy to reread and enjoy it again. It would read so well on the radio to your fellow winterbound listeners. I sure hope you choose it for an audio essay.