January 07, 2003

Wind of Winter

January is here again, and I'll admit, I am not happy about it. Even snows that come this month are not likely to be very pretty, flying past on unrelenting wind that blows snow sideways, abrasive and angry. On the brighter side, it is possible we will hear Spring Peepers on a rare warm day later this month, and their hopeful piping always lifts my sagging spirits in the bleakness of mid-winter. But realize that this cheery frog chorus is just a tease, and February turn around and rub it in our faces, February being a month even farther removed from the memory of green things growing, of insect noises, summer lightning and warm breezes.

Winter wind is perhaps the only element of weather I have come to terms with. Cold, you can dress for. But January wind will find a way to poke a stick at you, freeze-dry your eyeballs, and toss your toboggan in the creek. It’s like an annoying little brother waiting for you outside every time you suit up and venture out of doors in January. I ‘d like to have a better attitude about winter wind, to not take personally its bluster and brashness, to accept it without passing judgement. But this is a lesson that will take me a lifetime of winters to learn.

Image copyright Fred FirstLast night the wind shrieked overhead like a circling bird, back and forth from ridge to ridge, occasionally dipping 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 swirl a thousand feet above us, coursing the high places round and round like a great locomotive caught in a switching yard right over Goose Creek.

Now summer winds throw angry tantrums like this only when performing the accompaniment to summer thunder storms. Even then, a million living leaves modulate the pitch and timbre in the wind, so that in the summer gale there is a softness, a lifting and cleansing quality that is altogether missing from wind in winter. Summer wind steps to center stage in the midst of the storm, strutting and fretting about during the height of the drama, then exits stage left and it's pitch falls, doppler like, and only a breeze is left behind. In summer, a rising wind on a sweltering day is welcomed, the Hallelujah Chorus in the key of green. I have no complaints to register against summer winds.

Winter wind comes here mad 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 hoary Old Man Winter of children's books, 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 pitch to the roar of January wind, a discrete note that you could find on a piano keyboard. But this isn’t so. Like all rainbow colors blend to make white light, January wind plays all tones at once together as the Old Man overhead blows through a mouthpiece of ridge and ravine, across reeds of oak and poplar trunks.

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

So, when Spring Peepers sing their clear two-note song from a sunny roadside ditch later this month, I will be pleased to listen, even if they are only teasing us that winter is gone, with the wind.

Posted by fred1st at January 7, 2003 06:32 AM | TrackBack

There's lots of wind in South Dakota. Particularly in the winter. And when becomes very intense, you feel all of its intimidating power . . . yes, unfiltered through leaves and such, I loved that bit(!) . . . and it's truly disconcerting.

Posted by: Artichoke Heart at January 7, 2003 02:04 PM

Fred, I actually stole your title for a post of my own, a different viewpoint of the same season.

I have to admit I really like the imagery!

Posted by: DCE at January 7, 2003 07:16 PM

I enjoyed hearing your "Wind of Winter" article on NPR as I drove to work that dark morning buffeted by the very wind of which you spoke. I'll offer that I know the wind can make a more dreadful sound. Having grown up in Georgia and South Carolina, I have hear the terrible "jet engine" roar of tornadic winds. Having heard that never to be forgotten dreadful sound, I take comfort in knowing these winter winds will not build to the same frenzy, and I too look forward to the song of the "peepers".

Posted by: trail handle: ollie at January 11, 2003 09:29 AM

load a bollocks

Posted by: chrissy at March 14, 2003 10:11 AM

There's definitely something to this. I was listening to an unfamiliar recording of Vivaldi's Four Seasons this morning, and the Winter section bothered me: "not enough edge to the strings," I thought. There's more to the winter wind than mere velocity.

Posted by: CGHill at January 18, 2004 12:23 PM

Atmospheric, Fred!
I've heard the way the wind shrieks up high, then crashes without warning to attack, then pulls away again to regroup. Even scarier if you happen to be in a tent at the time...

Posted by: Andy at January 18, 2004 12:24 PM

"When the wind howls at midnight, I dream of the hoary Old Man Winter of children's books, cheeks bloated full, lips pursed and brow furrowed, exhaling a malevolent blast below at frail pink children in wet mittens."

this was perfection ... love the imagery .... makes me want to hide somewhere far away from the 'malevolent blast'. Brrrrrrrrr.

It's barely cooler here in Texas than a brisk chill, but I believe I'm in the mood to light a fire now. Brrrrrrr. Good stuff.

Posted by: ntexas99 at January 18, 2004 12:57 PM

I agree with "ntexas99" - great imagery. When are you going to be published? By the way, don't forget you can always escape that coldness and visit us. Jan/feb temperatures here are between 25 and 35 degrees C.

Posted by: Jenny at January 19, 2004 01:37 AM

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