An outdoor writer who does not credit the wind as the predominant force in the shaping and the life of wild places has failed in his craft. The wind touches and forms or reforms every thing. The wind also touches and affects every person, sometimes rewarding and sometimes punishing according to its force and its fickle moods. Like all else in this windy world, human destiny is windblown, windborne, wind-tossed.
Earth, water, fire, and wind. The four basic elements in Greek mythology. I hold wind the foremost of these. Invisible, indefinable, omnipresent, omnipotent, universal, unyielding. Wind-driven water. Wind-driven fire. Wind-driven soil. Tearing down and building up. Scattering and gathering. Destroying and proliferating life.
Today we are sheltering from a windstorm sweeping across central New Mexico. Constant wind speed is 25-30 miles per hour with gusts up to 50 miles per hour. A man camped at a nearby trailer site said, “Damn! This wind is cold!” But it is not cold by North Country standards where the Polar Vortex frequently weakens its stratospheric hold on winds that come howling from the Arctic bringing temperatures of 20 to 30 degrees below zero.
Even these moderately cold winds in New Mexico can make hiking a torture when a 50 mile-per-hour blast blows you off the trail and your hat goes sailing into an arroyo. After a descent from and a scramble back up to the trail to retrieve my hat, I concluded that was quite enough exercise for the morning. Even our French spaniel Abbey concurred, and she has a much lower center of gravity and therefore less chance of being tipped into a sheer-sided gully.
Now we are back in the relative safety of the Scamp camper feeling the trailer’s every shake and shudder. My beautiful blonde wife was wise enough to select the RV site most protected from this wind and to park the trailer parallel (as much as possible) to its direction, but we are still atop the federal campground’s ridgeline and are buffeted by each gust. I try to think of it as “minor turbulence” on an airplane flight.
These are not the most wind-battered days I recall during a life in wild places. While hunting sharptail grouse in the Nebraska Sandhills a blast once whipped both the hat from my head and the eyeglasses from my face. The eyeglasses were almost buried in wind-driven sand 20 yards away. I do not remember if I ever found the hat. Hunting squirrels along our wooded bluff on another blustery day, high winds ripped a good-sized limb from an elm tree and sent it crashing down five feet from me.
There was not the chance of a lace valentine in the fires of hell that I could have bagged a grouse or a squirrel or other game on these storm-wind days afield, but the truth is that I was outside because the of gale force winds. It was an exciting and energizing time to be outdoors, and I was still young enough to think myself immortal, or at least impervious to serious injury. In recent years I have outgrown that delusion.
Now I am more of an armchair outdoorsman on foul weather days. I can sit by our picture window, or inside our Scamp trailer for that matter, and watch the wind do its nastiest best to shape or reshape the landscape.
Wind is a fascinating force of nature. It formed the sandhills. It has worn down mountains. Torn away beaches. Toppled huge forests. Driven fires that burned millions of acres of prairies. Altered historical events and transfigured the course of civilizations. Eroded the hardest block of granite and the set-in-stone proclamations of saints and sinners. And made my face a lined and weatherworn mask.
Abbey says it has made me miss shots at quite a few gamebirds, too. But what a joy to be afield on a windy day. A 15 mile-per-hour windy day, not a 50 mile-per-hour windy day.