The Wind
Riverdave's Journal
This essay appeared in the Durham Herald-Sun on 4/4/99

For much of the year, the sound of the wind on the water's surface and in the surrounding trees is the most audible voice on the river. Instead of sniffing the air, listening to its voice becomes all encompassing. Changing weather or the passing of a storm front often turns up the volume of the voice of the wind. Without question, my favorite voice along the river is the singing of birds. However, when even a moderate wind kicks up, the song of the birds suddenly disappears. Once I realize that it will be a windy day, my first response is often to bemoan the fact that I will be hearing very little from my avian friends. I will probably be seeing fewer birds as well. They often seek shelter on windy days and are not as apparent to the observer.

In such a case, I resign myself to the fact that the day will not present itself to me as an opportunity for many encounters with wildlife. Instead, it will be a day of interacting with the elements. More boating skills will be required of me, especially if I will be paddling into the wind. If it is a cold day, the wind will draw away my body heat, and I will have to wrap myself with extra clothing to stay warm. In the end, I will surrender myself to that specialized sensory activity of listening to moving air and being receptive to what it might present to me.

Wind needs something solid to bump up against in order to have an audible voice. It can speak by whipping around my boat or by caressing my face. The wind becomes articulate by rushing over the top of the water and sending up spray. However, the wind speaks most eloquently as it passes through the trees that line the banks of the river. It is not just a relationship of force and obstacle that exists between the moving gaseous air and a solid standing tree. The wind is combing the forest by shaping the canopy, pruning dead branches and culling weak trees. Of utmost importance, the wind is sending both pollen and seeds zooming in all directions to commence the next generation of arborescent life.

This was illustrated most powerfully to me only several weeks ago. On a sunny, blustery March afternoon, I witnessed gusting winds descending on a giant sycamore tree barren of leaves but still loaded with hundreds, or perhaps thousands, of mature seed balls. The impact of the wind shook loose the contents of these tightly clustered aggregates, each containing hundreds of tiny seeds. The March wind wafted them through the air in what looked like a blizzard of tiny tufted parasols. I could only marvel
how this titan of river trees was so perfectly poised to collaborate with the wind to produce such a spectacle of both practicality and beauty.

I have grown accustomed to two distinct seasons for listening to the wind. In our Piedmont deciduous forests, the presence of leaves during warm weather greatly increases the surface area of a tree that will provide resistance for the wind to utter its speech. The rustling of leaves in the canopy over the river in the summertime creates the loudest volume of windy speech along the Eno.

During the winter season, after the leaves have dropped from the deciduous trees, the wind is quieter. The rustling voice of the warm season is replaced by a hollower sounding, hushed roar. The trunks of the older trees occasionally creak and groan under the pressure of the wind. The atmosphere on the river during the months of winter winds feels wilder and less familiar. I can easily visualize myself in a colder, northern wilderness, paddling a river in the Yukon. It is the hollow sound of the winter wind that plays on my imagination more that the cooler air temperature or even the brown winter landscape of a Piedmont riparian forest.

Like many of the patterns of nature that I venerate, the sound of the wind in the trees is a random pattern with its crescendos and diminuendos coming without predictability. In addition to its audible voice, I strain to detect in the apparent randomness of nature a more subtle and hidden speech as well. In A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, Henry Thoreau speculates that "these things imply, perchance, that we live on the verge of another and purer realm, from which these odors and sounds are wafted over to us. The borders of our plot are set with flowers, whose seeds were blown from Elysian fields. They are the pot-herbs of the gods.''

If the wind is just a breeze, its voice is like a murmuring brook and becomes a pleasant and relaxing background tune, in harmony with the stream of consciousness that I have brought with me to my day on the river. If it is a powerful and forceful wind, it draws attention to itself, speaking of change and offering nature's unlimited power to us as hapless creatures.

A strong wind easily turns into a mood alterer and an evoker of deep and unexplored thoughts. Most commonly, such a wind creates in me a premonition of a change that is about to take place. The wind is restless, and so I become as well. A burst of wind can reach into my psyche and pull up hidden thoughts that I had not consciously carried to the river.

Such is the character of all the many untamed forces of nature. Their sudden or unexpected entrances into our lives dramatically play upon the strings of our hearts. To experience their influence upon us, we must simply place ourselves in an exposed position to be affected. My free floating, lightweight boat sets me in an ideal pose to be vulnerable to the powers that are wafting in the winds.

In the Carlos Castaneda's classic shamanic tales, the Yaqi Indian sorcerer Don Juan Matus instructs his apprentices in how to relate to the wind.  He informs his female apprentice Dona Soledad that every woman has a specific directional wind that can instruct and empower her. "Winds and women are alike." he said. "If a woman quiets down and is not talking to herself, her wind will pick her up, just like that."  Dona Soledad disovered that she was of the north wind.

Don Juan also urges Carlos to hunt for his own personal power in all the winds of the vast desert of Sonora. The two men walk together into a deep ravine, then up one side to a plateau on the sheer side of an enormous mountain. "You are going in search of power, and everything you do counts,'' Don Juan said. "Watch the wind, especially toward the end of the day. Watch, when it changes directions ...''