The wind came to visit us this week. We live on the knob of a hill that overlooks a Raccoon Creek valley, and it is a breezy spot year-round, but this wind was the kind that ushers in a full-blown front from Canada, perhaps just to remind us that cold weather is going to be the boss around here for a while. No matter how surprising our mild winter has been so far, this kind of wind tells us not to expect many more warm days over the next few months.
Joanie and I noticed the wind at our place on the first day we came to live here. It was a breezy August afternoon, and since we had no air conditioning then, we had all of our windows open to catch the crosswinds that blew in under our maples, through the living room, and on out across the back hill to the woods below. We have, for most part, been friends ever since, particularly on those days when our wind chimes sing to us in the afternoons and early evenings and the winds are lazy and slow.
But last Sunday morning, after a surprisingly calm New Year’s Eve that saw us warming our house with only a wood box of sassafras and oak and a fireplace, we heard the wind come in like a freight train, and the tune our front porch chimes played that night was as harsh as any dissonant symphony ever recorded. That wind was a mean left hook out of the north, and it left us a bit disappointed. I had to take the chimes down, and found pieces of two lying in a flower bed where the wind had dropped them.
Today, as I write this, I can see the wind, not just hear it. It is moving fat flakes of snow, a bit of which I noticed already accumulating near my cabin door when I came outside. My heater hasn’t shut itself off for even a minute as the three big sycamore trees I watch through my window sway and rock from side to side.
The gray squirrel, who has built a rather impressive condo atop one of them, has to either be rocking in sleep or a bit nauseous by now.
I think I brought a bit of this on myself. Just a few days ago, after a morning in town, my wife and I came home in the early afternoon to take down our outdoor Christmas decorations. I worked in shirt sleeves that day as we packed away lights and artificial trees and wreaths. More than once, I commented on how nice my yard looked, that there wasn’t a single twig or limb down, that the grass was still fairly green, and that the decorations we always leave up well past Christmas — mostly red bows and green garlands — were still in place.
This morning, as I hunkered down in a heavy jacket and ball cap and gloves, I wandered the yard, stomping on bits of ribbon and silk poinsettias and a wreath or two before they blew over the hill. My nose ran and my cheeks grew red, as if I’d been slapped, as I also picked up a brass-colored sun that usually hangs as an optimistic symbol on the west side of the house above the porch; I’ll return it to its proper place when I feel safe to climb a ladder again. Rounding the corner of my house, I noticed that the wind had knocked a birdhouse we keep for decoration off the back deck, too, and that the plastic I had used to cover a Mexican terracotta oven we keep near our door had been displaced, as if the wind had blown up a modest lady’s skirt.
I found a roofing shingle in the yard. It didn’t surprise me; we are planning to re-roof our house next spring, deciding to patch the worst spots and wait for safer, drier weather. I knew exactly where the shingle came from: I have tarred and glued and nailed in that place many times, a little promontory on our porch that bears the brunt of the northwest winds stoically. But it often needs my help now, so I went to the barn to retrieve my roofing cement, a black goop that sets up like concrete in cold weather. I set the can near a register in the house to warm it, and plan to be on the roof later in the week.
The stiff breezes had knocked over our trellis, too. Weighted down by two big chucks of sandstone and a bit of wire, it shivered so hard in the wind that it pulled itself apart at its base and flopped over into a dormant flower bed. I’ll have to screw it back together when the wind stops. While I’m at it, I’ll pick up a wheelbarrow or two of sticks and twigs, too. Our maples seem to save them up for such a wind, then drop them all when I’ve gotten cocky and satisfied that my yard is clean.
Sitting here in the warmth, amidst the smell of books and coffee, I observed one of our barn cats as it hunkered down on the corner of our deck, its back to the wind. She had her eye on one of our birdfeeders and a fat cardinal that sat next to an ear of corn, hanging onto the wood with a death grip lest it blow away in a chaos of red feathers. Just a few days ago, he and his bird buddies sat in casual groups, enjoying the warmth of south breezes and eating at leisure. Today, he was making a mad dash for a kernel or two before heading to the shelter of a brush pile behind my barn.
I also watched a pair of deer wander below me in the woods. Both were picking at the remains of a few Halloween pumpkins we tossed over the hill a while back. They didn’t seem to be in a hurry to come up to the top of the ridge where they would have to face the harsh wind. How they make it through the winter nights like the one we are going to have tonight, I don’t know. For their sake, and mine, I hope the weatherman is right when he says that warmer air is on its way, probably riding in on winds from the south.
One of my favorite passages in all of literature comes from Ernie Pyle. I have used it in this space before. In an essay about Indiana, Pyle spoke of the Midwestern winds, how they rustled “the leaves and the branches of the maple trees in a sort of symphony of sadness.”
He was speaking of summer winds, not the same kind we’re facing today. Sad as they may be, I’d take those winds — and open windows and singing wind chimes — over those of this January deep freeze. The cardinals would probably agree.
Mike Lunsford can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or c/o the Tribune-Star, P.O. Box 149, Terre Haute, IN 47808. Mike will be speaking and signing his books at 6:30 p.m. (CST) Thursday at the Marshall, Ill., Public Library. His third book, “A Place Near Home,” is available through his website and is in local stores now. Visit his website at www.mikelunsford.com.