— I know what makes the wind. Trees!–
The big wind came in the night. I awoke suddenly to hear the chicken coop’s sheets of corrugated metal roofing flapping and grinding as if under torture, while asphalt shingles beat on the roof over my head with the steady staccato of automatic weapons fire. It felt like an earthquake, not mere air, shook my bed even as it shook the house. Violent gusts of wind flung buckets of rain against my bedroom windows. The house shuddered as each new gale struck, lashing it with rain. Sleep was impossible.
A sudden tapping on my shoulder combined with the night’s frightful hours to make me start, my heart beating hard against my ribs. The low silhouette at my bedside seemed a dark specter for a moment, then resolved itself into a small, scared boy.
“If you want, you can make a bed on the floor in my room,” I offered to Caleb (2), perceiving his unuttered question.
I rose to help him fold his jumbled quilt in two, half for a cushion, half for a cover, and to find a spare pillow. I would have found the floor hard, but he found it soft and soothing. Sooner than mine, his breath lengthened into the calm breathing of a serene and guiltless sleep. The wind and I kept company for another hour, until I would normally have awoken to venture out under the early-morning sky. But not this morning. On this morning, I stayed under the covers, insulating myself from the wrath of the sky’s tantrum but still hearing its screams and sighs and gnashings.
Late the next morning, I ventured forth, under calm and sunny skies, to find sheets of mangled metal strewn about the lawn. Sections of Charley’s wheel line lay twisted and broken, having been blown downhill across his fallow winter fields.
In the afternoon, ominous clouds, charcoal black, formed quickly in the west, obscuring the mountains. The wind began to blow hard, with sharp bursts like shock waves that knocked me off balance. The dark sky suddenly descended to the ground, like a raptor swooping down to claw the earth and its prey, then rising with clutched talons to scatter furious dust in the wild wind. The wind blasted through the trees, whipping them meanly, bending and straining them almost to breaking. Thunder followed close on the heels of the lighting, shaking us with its too-close sonic booms.
From where I stood on the front porch, the wind drove the hurting rain like pins into my sensitive skin. To the boys, however, the squall was a great adventure. Brian (12) ran unrestrained over the grass, wearing his Roswell alien Halloween mask, partly to shield his face from the rain, but also to participate in a phenomenon so strange and alien, so electric and exciting. John (4) ran the length of the porch and leapt high and arcing into the wind and rain, then ran and rolled somersaults and cartwheels in the wet grass, giggling and shrieking with the sensory thrill of the storm. Caleb stood by me on the porch, his arms clutching my leg.
“I don’t like it when the sky burps,” he complained. “I don’t like it when the clouds bump heads.”
From an angry, lowering sky, clouds hurled lightning at the obscured mountain peaks, and thunder enveloped all with its deep, echoing booms. Pea-sized hail suddenly inundated Erda, as if poured from some celestial bucket. It bounced off the grass and appeared as a school of thousands of tiny white fish jumping up through the surface of a vast green sea.
* * *
Gusts blowing down through mountain passes through the Tooele valley can top 85 miles per hour. One storm blew a section of vinyl siding off the chimney, 30 feet high. The warranty had lapsed, and an insurance claim would barely clear the deductible. I called a few contractors, but the job was too small for them to bother with given the active construction market. I sure didn’t know how to fix it.
I looked up at the bare spot every evening driving home from work. I could see it from Rabbit Lane. On Saturdays, working around the yard, I looked up frequently to see the patch of exposed plywood. It bothered me to have my house scarred.
One day I announced, “I have figured out how to fix the siding!”
I tied all the siding pieces together with a timber hitch, and tied the two parts of the extension ladder together so they wouldn’t slip when pulled from the top. I climbed onto the porch roof, pulling my bundle of siding pieces behind me. From the porch roof, I pulled the ladder up by the top rungs. My knots kept the ladder from sliding apart into two useless pieces that would leave me stranded on the roof. A two-by-four scrap nailed into the porch roof kept the ladder from sliding off. From there, I climbed the ladder onto the steep gable roof above my bedroom. I pulled the siding and ladder up again. Nailing another two-by-four to the roof, I leaned the ladder against the chimney. I snapped each piece of siding into the other, pulling nails from my utility belt to secure them against other blasts of wind sure to come.
When I told Angie, “I’m going to fix the siding today,” she replied softly “Okay” without looking at me and without saying another word. She began working madly about the house, appearing to pay no mind to the nail pounding. She mostly vacuumed. When I walked into the house two hours later, the siding project done, she rushed over to me and hugged me tight. She half-whispered half-sobbed, “I was too scared to go outside. I didn’t want to see you fall off the roof. I was frantic inside.”
“Sweetheart,” I replied with a little less feeling than I should have shown, “I had planned it all out, down to the nail. And it worked out just as I planned.”
Of course, it could have turned out tragically, not just as I planned, had any little thing gone awry. I know several people who have injured themselves terribly from falling off their roofs. Remembering that, I just held her for awhile, then moved on to the next project. When the next big storms blew off large sections of siding, I hired a contractor.
* * *
We know the familiar, iconic image of a breeze caressing golden wheat fields into “endless waves of grain.” The ripe wheat ebbs and flows in swirls and waves as if alive and dancing in a liquid sea. Less familiar is the effect of a strong wind blowing across a field of harvested grain. I witnessed this one morning as the wind ripped around and through millions of short, stiff stalks, rustling and whipping their tattered and peeling layers with the sound of a heavy summer rain shower on the road, though the sky was dry. It frightened me to hear this enormous sound emanating from a flat field that held only wheat stalk stubble. As I walked nearby, the wind blew in frenetic, jumbled gusts so that no matter which direction I walked the biting winter wind buffeted my face.
Walking on a calmer winter day, the wind whistled dissonantly over and around live power lines stretched between antique blue glass insulators bolted to wooden cross-members mounted on tree poles soaked in pungent creosote.
In Summer, the wind blows frequently and for days, hot and dry from the south, at times blowing in great, house-shaking gusts. It does no good to open the windows for air. The air conditioner whines all night, moving the air a little, but bringing scant relief from the heat. I can’t sleep. Fine brown dust appears mysteriously in the corners of the closed windows, as if sprinkled by a Brownie in the nighttime.