Wednesday, March 24, 2010

O wind, a-blowing

Wednesday, a few days ago now, was one of those iconic March days. Windy.
It brought to mind a poem, "The Wind," by Robert Louis Stevenson from A Child's Garden of Verses. The copy I own, and had as a kid, is illustrated with black and white photos by Toni Frissell, mainly of her children and their friends. This one shows a little girl, about six, in mid-jump from a grassy dune, cumulus clouds banked on the horizon behind her. In one hand she holds a ball of string from which a triangular kite with stars and stripes is pulling taut a few feet to the left. It starts:

I saw you toss the kites on high
And blow the birds across the sky;
And all around I heard you pass,
Like ladies' skirts across the grass—
O wind, a-blowing all day long,
O wind, that sings so loud a song!

I saw the different things you did,
But always you yourself you hid.
I felt you push, I heard you call,
I could not see yourself at all—
O wind, a-blowing all day long,
O wind, that sings so loud a song!

I understand the impulse to talk to the wind, personify it, try to figure it out. When it's strong, and kind of a bully, it's almost a solid thing, but it persists in being invisible, and not a thing at all. Just moving air. But different from the air we move. This air has been moving for miles, pushing clouds and trees and grass and flags and what can be more invincible? The poet asks: are you young or old? Are you a stronger child than me?

Even when it's calm, it's still alive and seems to have a volition, or a whim. No wonder they gave it different names. Whan Zephyrus eek with his sweete breethe... It's one of the most maddening aspects of nature, that self-regulating (almost) system that doesn't need our help, that may be indifferent about us, or at least doesn't consider us to be more special than a chinchbug. We want it to turn the blades of big turbine wind mills. Or maybe what we really want is we want it to play with us, like it did when we offered it a pinwheel to turn, or a kite to take up. Or clothes on a clothesline to set dancing.

In the Mexican folktale, it's the wind god, Quetzalcoatl, who brings back the Sun's musicians to Earth, the birth of music. Which makes sense, because all wind needs is an instrument to blow into or through, or sound waves to carry, to make music. Sometimes that instrument is a tree or the wing feathers of a woodcock.

Down at Spy Pond, it was churning the water into whitecaps, sloshing little waves against the shore in drunken rodomontades. In the sky, no cloud had a chance. I watched a pair of Canada geese step carefully into the gust, somehow not even ruffling a feather. I interfered with it, but I didn't have a choice. I was in the way. It was the way.

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