I close my eyes
only for a moment and the moment’s gone
All my dreams
Pass before my eyes a curiosity
Dust in the wind
All they are is dust in the wind.
Today’s east wind is unsettling.
Sailors tell tales of the horrors of the doldrums, for some best known in Samuel Taylor Coleridge‘s Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner, but windless water is widely considered an unsettling listlessness among seamen. Alas, we landlubbers know no such peril. For many of us it’s the wind that is unwelcome. For many easy to identify reasons it bugs us: blowing dust, messing up our hair, pruning branches, slamming doors and rattling windows. Yet, there’s an unidentifiable aspect that just puts some of us on edge. And, having worked quite a bit with horses I can tell you it puts some of them on edge too. It makes us pace and makes me pensive; pacing and thinking sounds like anxiety, doesn’t it? Darn wind.
I’ve tried to make peace with the drafts that inhabit the world. Twice, they’ve tried to make peace with me.
The first attempt at détente occurred in the far north of Norway, above the Arctic Circle on the edge of the Norwegian Sea. As is the case in the Columbia Gorge near my home, the fjords’ peaks and valleys channel the wind, serving to accelerate its progress. But, with the wide fetch of the ocean to the west, there are days it makes landfall with great force all on its own. On one such February day, I toured a few of the Øyer (islands) of this Northland. It’s a place of tremendous beauty. Ice and water, water of Caribbean blue, pastel birch trees, long shadows, short days, and low light paint this place a dream.
But, it’s a harsh place too: barren and cold in winter. It’s that landscape I devoured with my senses as I emerged from the safety of the car I’d been using to travel. We’d parked along the side of the road at a spot that would allow us easy access to the sea. Our idea of a ceremonial toe-dipping in the frigid waters of the sea was slammed from our minds by the impact of the wind. The smallest among us, 4’11” and all of 90 pounds, couldn’t even stand upright. She immediately returned to the safety of the car, pried the door open and watched as the rest of us did what we could to endure the wind. Yet, the beauty of the place and the delicate details among the lichen-covered rocks, to which we now clung to with much effort, prolonged our desire to try to tolerate the wind’s beating.
As I stood, wobbling in the gusts, it occurred to me to relax and stop fighting. I took a deep breath, faced the wind, closed my eyes, and commanded my muscles to relax. In that instant I had a brief truce with the wind. It rewarded me with the sensation of an embrace. It felt as if the wind was a warm pair of arms that wrapped gently around my torso and gave me a loving hug. A safe and wonderful hug. It felt real enough to be startling. It felt real enough to shake my belief system – who was this kind and nurturing entity answering my quest for peace (within and without)? Then it was over, but to this day I can still harken that feeling of holding the wind like a secret love. It’s a cryptic agreement that I struggle to honor.
The next time the wind shook me up, it turned me into a speck of dust.
I didn’t start the day as a dust speck, I started the day as a bike tourist at the top of the Coyote Mountains just east of San Diego. The wind farm near our campsite should have been a clue to the wind potential of this area. Indeed, we awoke to strong winds and knew we’d be buffeted around a bit at some point during the day. Wind in the morning is never a good sign. As we crossed the mountains and began our descent towards the east, the wind not only continued, it grew in force. The descent out of the mountains on Hwy 8 was at times treacherous as gusts pushed me around as I struggled to retain control of my bike; the wind’s outburst shoving me off course, sometimes off of the shoulder and towards traffic. As we neared the bottom of the hill, we stopped. The view into the Imperial Valley lay before us. It was not a comforting view. In the center of the valley a large sand storm raged. We consulted our map, estimated the path of the old road we’d planned to ride, and believed we’d be to the north of the storm.
No way were we going to turn around, there was only tiny Ocatillo ahead and it proved not to have lodging or camping, so we had no choice but to take our chances. As we took a quick north turn to hook up with our route the wind hit me so hard it nearly knocked me over. I was forced to get off of the bike and walk the few hundred feet to our eastbound route. Picture my firm grasp on the bike, my bracing lean hard to the left, legs splayed, and barely staying on my feet as I shuffled along. After great effort I reached the intersection of County Highway S80 and turned to the east.
Now that evil crosswind was a tailwind. The bout with the wind had left me a little shaken so it took a few minutes to realize what was happening as we rolled into the center of the valley. The flat valley floor was passing by with amazing ease. As I relaxed, my speed just kept increasing. With little effort, in fact mostly just coasting along, we were cruising at 30 mph. It’s really difficult for a cyclist to reach and maintain that speed on the flats, but here we were just flying along. It was the dream tailwind of a lifetime.
We got a bit giddy from the speed but that waned as the visibility also decreased and we realized that we were indeed heading directly into the sand storm. Before things got too bad, we stopped, I wrapped a bandana over my face, and we carried on. The visibility got worse and worse. The road harder and harder to see but we were still traveling at about 30 mph. Some of the awe at what was happening kept us in the moment and we felt no fear as we entered the center of the storm. Because we were traveling at the same speed as all of the sand and dust we experienced no discomfort, our eyes were clear, our breathing unimpeded, our hearts light.
Here was another instant I decided not to fight the wind. I can remember looking around and feeling as if everything was happening in slow motion. Large pebbles, grains of sand, and dust, all suspended and flying along next to me; all of us traveling by the same means and at the same speed. In that moment, I thought I understood the meaning of life: my life as a dust speck. With all of my intelligence, technology, and will, I was still at the mercy of nature, just like my brother the dust speck. It was an incredible gift to truly know that.
The rest of that trip had some wonderfully pleasant scenic days and some trying moments on some awful highways but for the most part it was the few miles on County Highway S80 that really defined the whole bike tour for me. Yet it didn’t define my relationship with the wind. Back at home, the back door rattles and leaves fly across the yard, Crows dive and turn riding the gusts, tree tops are bending.
The east wind is blowing and I feel unsettled.