Giants in the Earth by O.E. Rolvaag is a novel that depicts the lives of Norwegian settlers in the Dakotas. Berek, a main character, struggles with depression that comes with the expansiveness of the landscape and the ever present wind. I once had a student from Wyoming describe how they tested large garbage dumpsters in her hometown for their ability to stay in place. Rather than tumble weeds, she would occasionally see a new dumpster model rolling down the street under the force of the wind, having failed the test.
Wind is an element of place. I can still conjure up the sound and feeling of the wind rattling the big wooden storm windows in the house where I grew up. Later, when I lived in Minnesota, I had braved three hours of driving in white out conditions, traveling home from my grandmother’s birthday party. The sun was shining while the wind was howling and blowing the winter snow across the winter fields and roads. The combination of bright sun and blowing white snow made it impossible to discern the edges of the road or the back of the car in front of us.
I thought I had experienced wind until I lived in New Zealand. Located in the “roaring 40s” southern latitude where little landmass exists to slow down the wind, there were several times when I had to hold on to my younger daughter to keep her from being blown over. I used to think we might find our laundry in the next town if we didn’t use enough clothes pins to tack it to the clothesline.
Drifts come with wind. My parents have pictures of snow drifts in Minnesota the height of telephone poles. Many a time I have had to remove the snow from a driveway–not just the inches of snow that have fallen, but the drifts that can be many feet deep next to other places where the wind has blown a patch of the driveway clean. Fall leaves follow the same patterns. Raking leaves too soon only means that they are replaced with the neighbor’s leaves that blow onto your yard. Timing is everything. If you live in the right place relative to the wind, you can let nature do your work and blow your leaves onto your neighbor’s yard. This does not make for good relationships however.
I have been struck by how the leaves stay in place in the wooded landscape of New England. My town picks up your piles of leaves on the edge of the street two times each fall. I was a bit mystified initially on how this would work, thinking about the challenge of getting piles of leaves to stay in one place while you waited for the day for the truck to come by. But alas, they seem to just sit there for the most part. They stay where they fall unless you move them. On the rare occasion of a “wind event” they are not gusty winds, but the straight line winds of a Nor’easter or a hurricane. None have occurred this year.
There is something comforting about hearing the changing tempo and whistle of gusty winds while I sit inside with a cup of hot tea on a cold winter night. These types of winds are my friends. I miss them.