Press "Enter" to skip to content

High-wind warnings

This is my first full spring in the desert and I’m not loving it. I knew, from word and brief visits, that it could be windy here in springtime. “Heck, it’s windy anywhere that time of year,” I thought. But wind here is something cosmic — even worse at times than the howling gales that are part of Wyoming’s very identity.

We’re under high-wind warnings two to three days a week right now. And that’s not to say that the other days are calm. Merely that they’re windy enough to be annoying and to make havoc of both your housecleaning and your hair, but not likely to blow large objects or columns of stinging, blinding sand at you.

There was a time when winds like these would have driven me to screaming-mee-meeism. A few days of this and I’d weep and wail and have fits of melodramatics I never knew the adult me was capable of. Now I merely hate them with every fiber of my being and long for brighter latitudes every moment of every endlessly windy day.

And “better” yet — I’m currently living in a friend’s trailer (sans friend) which rocks back and forth in every tiny zephyr. And is as perforated with air-holes as a trespasser’s fanny after an encounter with bird shot. Heavens, what a saint I am for enduring such trials so patiently!

Uh oh. Was that another attack of melodramatics coming on? (Actually, use of the trailer has been a great bounty; I just like to whine sometimes.)

Funny how movies set in these high-desert places never show the perpetual Chinooks. Oh, they’ll show wind if the plot calls for surviving a sand-storm. But daily life in the movies’ desert west will be conducted in the calm — nary a cowboy hat or golden lock out of place. How do they do that, anyhow? They can’t have filmed “High Noon” or “The Outlaw Josie Wales” on a sound stage.

Here, in reality, the wind blows. And so it goes for weeks and months — ironically those very months that should be the best times of year. Hunching against the unholy blast of the dry blizzard, sand in your hair and grit on your skin (not to mention red dust clogging up the works of every electronic device you own, giving them all an average lifespan of six months), you dread stepping outside — but in a life of living off-grid, you have to because you can’t even take a shower unless you trek to the barn — and when you have to go out, you feel you’re being buffeted by the demons of fate (uh oh, there I go again). (I think that was just a completed sentence, but at the moment I’m not sure, so please pardon me.)

You find yourself almost longing for winter, when days are often as still as a Christmas card. Ten-below? Who cares? When it’s that cold, the wind isn’t blowing. A snowstorm that traps you behind the washes for two days? No big deal. Just let me have some days afterward of calm, still air. That’s how crazy is this place. No sane person would want to be here. It’s miserable when it’s miserable. And it’s even more miserable when it’s supposed to be nice.

And finally — yes, really finally — after all of Deepest Dantean Hell’s unleashed unnatural forces (yeah, there I go again) — the nearest neighbors and we were just having a lunchtime chat yesterday about how many of the rattlesnakes on our respective properties are the dreaded Mojave greens — serpents whose bite would be fatal to any human and to any dog — even if the dog has had a course of rattlesnake immunizations, as my youngest and dearest has. (With my older two, I rely more on their brains to keep them out of the snake’s mouth.)

Nobody was really quite sure about how many of our poisonous snakes are those green killers. But the neighbors do commonly vie with each other for the most dramatic snake-encounter reports, and even your basic garden-variety rattler, of which there seem to be dozens of kinds, will make your life wretched enough. This is a common topic over coffee in these parts.

We’re the Edward Abbey version of garden-club ladies discussing begonia blight. That’s us. Only our blights will kill us.

Yep. Lovely place this is. Drive a body to suicide — or drive a more sensible body OUT. It may eventually beat me. I was not made for this. I was born to green and blue, to water flowing everywhere, all the time. I was born to land where you could come upon a waterfall in any empty acre of the forest — small, humble waterfall, but waterfall nonetheless — and where wild cress grew in stagnant pools and deer peacefully grazed — on actual grass that actually grew without the help of five Mexican gardeners — and I’m not sure whether that was just a full, coherent sentence again, but anyhow, I belong in drippy, wet places where the native joke (every region has one) is that if you stood to long in one place you’d grow moss on your north side. Places where wind, when it rises at all, rises only in conjunction with proper rain or snowstorms, which of course make it a perfectly understandable phenomenon and totally acceptable as a temporary visitor.

And this, do I need to say again, is not my native land?

Yet I may be soon (or not, it’s uncertain) committing to a deeper level of involvement here. It’s not sure yet.

But if I do it will be for one reason: friends. Although I, the hermit, require days of solitude and hours of silence, friends matter more than the double-damned winds.

Well, it’ll be for that one reason and a bit of luck. Also a bit of random choice. Perhaps more on that later.

And beauty. Can’t forget beauty as a motivator. She’s one alluring phantom. And in its grand, dry, sweeping-to-the-horizons way, this place is beautiful.

Oh, and because all that wet only gets warm about 20 days out of the year, the region has the highest suicide rate in the nation due to its perpetual and pervasive gloom, and your entire collection of firearms (already quite feeble) rusts, and there are slugs the size of baby whales slithering all over your lawn. (Salt. It’s both pesticide and extremely morbid entertainment in the Great Northwest.) Not to mention that the first European explorers who sighted the place took one look at its dark, impenetrable forests and declared it “uninhabitable.” I was fond of it. It was my world. And there were (and are) friends there, too.

Yeah, there’s all that.

13 Comments

  1. Pat
    Pat May 24, 2010 5:25 am

    You know what they say about Life, don’t you? — Choices… Choices… Choices. 🙂

    I was reminded of the following poem while reading this, because I’ve always loved the wind. (But not when it rocks my house; I’ve lived in a mobile home during a Florida hurricane and, you’re right, that is NOT fun.)

    Wind (by Amy Lowell)
    He shouts in the sails of the ships at sea,
    He steals the down from the honeybee,
    He makes the forest trees rustle and sing,
    He twirls my kite till it breaks its string.
    Laughing, dancing, sunny wind,
    Whistling, howling, rainy wind,
    North, South, East and West,
    Each is the wind I like the best.
    He calls up the fog and hides the hills,
    He whirls the wings of the great windmills,
    The weathercocks love him and turn to discover
    His whereabouts——but he’s gone, the rover!
    Laughing, dancing, sunny wind,
    Whistling, howling, rainy wind,
    North, South, East and West,
    Each is the wind I like the best.
    The pine trees toss him their cones with glee,
    The flowers bend low in courtesy,
    Each wave flings up a shower of pearls,
    The flag in front of the school unfurls.
    Laughing, dancing, sunny wind,
    Whistling, howling, rainy wind,
    North, South, East and West,
    Each is the wind I like the best.

  2. MJR
    MJR May 24, 2010 7:31 am

    Hey Claire,

    While I cannot know what you are going through in the desert I can sympathize. Many years ago in the very late seventies I spent time in the Middle East wearing the blue beret. The weather is never like in the movies. While on a supply run I remember being on the Golan heights when it snowed. Talk about depressed…

    BTW You may want to take a look at “After Armageddon” from the History Channel. You can get it broken up into 9 parts on You Tube.

    MJR

  3. Lori
    Lori May 24, 2010 7:39 am

    I know how you feel. I’ve been stuck in Nebraska for 7 years I’m dying to see real trees and mountains. Hoping to split soon.
    Pick you up on the way through? 😉

  4. Matt
    Matt May 24, 2010 7:40 am

    Claire,

    If the steady winds are below 25mph and the gusts less then 40mph, it’s just a normal breezy day! Get used to the dust, unless you have a hermetically sealed house you can’t stop it. The constant winds, with gusts that can destroy, is a part of the beauty of the high desert. What fun would a mistress that is always sweet and gentle be?

    A bandanna to cover the mouth helps on the heavily windy days. Looks cooler than a surgical mask. It breaks the wind velocity, filters the big chunks and helps make it easier to breath. They’re not just for train robberies.

    High top leather boots worn outside are the best prevention for snakes. That and look before stepping, or putting hand or face into areas a snake (or scorpion) might be. Don’t provide habitat for the snakes close to your house.

  5. Jake MacGregor
    Jake MacGregor May 24, 2010 8:36 am

    if you tire of the high plains (as did we) there is plenty of room here on our spread in N’West MT … green, wet, remote and peaceful … and no wind!

    consider it an invite

    we’ll leave the light on :>)

  6. Kent McManigal
    Kent McManigal May 24, 2010 1:20 pm

    Here it is flat. Nothing but crop land with the occasional feedlot or dairy to add its aroma to the wind. Nothing to stop the wind when it decides to blow. The only trees are ones someone has planted and babied to try to convince them to survive. They all lean due to the prevailing wind. My hat only stay on because I tie it on, and even then there is only one “wind-resistant” hat that I can wear in the spring. Dirt and grit in the eyes is common. Hang on to your mail or hope someone catches it and returns it to you. Only open one car door at a time to prevent the wind from cleaning out your car for you. Some days it is just too exhausting to stand outside for long, even though my daughter begs to go outside. She only has one “wind resistant” hat, too, and it isn’t always the one she wants to wear.

    But, it could be worse. I could live in a city.

  7. Jackie
    Jackie May 24, 2010 1:57 pm

    Claire,
    I thought I was reading my own words at times in this post of yours and I am in North Texas. Wind!!! I hate wind (too many memories of the Columbus Day Storm of 1962) and it blows here almost constantly from a ‘strong’ breeze to 70 mph. I am thankful this trailer I am camping in is well anchored into the ground.

    I fully appreciate the moss on the North side – I miss it. Hoping for that Lotto win so I can resettle in some hollow beneath a ridge in Northern Idaho where the trees are green all year round and the snow is beautiful to play in. I miss the *cool*, the wet, and calm of the Northwest more than words could ever say.

    When I get my place up there you know you will always have a place to lay your head alongwith your 4 legged critters.

  8. Parabarbarian
    Parabarbarian May 24, 2010 2:20 pm

    I don’t know what desert you’re in but it must be one of the really savage ones. Here in the Mojave and Sonoran deserts the winds are not near as bad you describe. Every few years we get the really high winds my comrades and I call the “skull wind” (can you guess why?) but most of the time the winds are no more than force three or four.

    Sometimes the air is so still the smoke from a campfire rises straight up.

  9. Karen
    Karen May 24, 2010 4:35 pm

    So you’re the one sending us this wind to the mts of CO! Demolished a 13 yr old storage tent, beating the snot out of the few veg plants I had put out, added a layer of sandblasting on the car windows, high fire danger here in the forest with campers set to descend next weekend. But thank the universe that we don’t have snakes!

  10. Winston
    Winston May 24, 2010 5:27 pm

    Hey Claire have you ever read Dune?

    [nerd=]I’m a huge fanboy…and your post reminds me of something Lady Jessica would have said…you know the whole ‘On Caladan water fell from the sky! Here there’s no water and sandstorms will eat through your flesh!’ type stuff…[/nerd]

  11. Tahn
    Tahn May 24, 2010 6:37 pm

    Claire,

    We don’t have winds like that in Missouri. Ours are seasonal but they often rotate and form a funnel from ground to sky. We do have lots of trees though. They sometimes get sucked out of the ground by said funnels and fly around. Choices.

    I too thought of Dune and the still suits. With that kind of wind it would be a great place for a wind generator. Just put it downwind so you won’t hear it scream all the time.

    Tahn

  12. ff42
    ff42 May 24, 2010 7:57 pm

    Put up a windmill/turbine. As soon as you do the winds will stop. 😎

  13. Claire
    Claire May 25, 2010 6:05 am

    Oh my. So many good replies. Where to begin? With thank yous, I guess. And commiserations to those who also live in such places. Jackie, I grok. Lori, the woman you see hitchhiking beside the highway with three dogs will be me. But Karen — don’t blame me LOL, you might have gotten some partly used-up winds from my neck of the woods, but I promise I didn’t send ’em. Sorry ’bout that storage tent, though.

    About those wind generators … so true. Thing is, the wind mostly blows like this when we don’t need it — when the solar power is cranking away, the days are long, and we have less need for electricity. Yep, set up a wind generator and it sits there doing nothing during the months you need it most. Lots of people around here do use wind power — including our nearest neighbor, whose turbine sits atop a hill half a mile over. In winter, it’s mostly idle. This time of year, we can sometimes hear it scream even from here, well upwind of it.

    Dune … skull winds … flying hats and flayed flesh … oh yes. And Tahn, I’ve seen those spinning winds myself. I guess on balance I’d rather have what we get here, thank you. What MJR says: Noplace has sane weather; snow hits the Golan Heigts and occasionally it even sunshines in Seattle.

    Matt, thanks for the practicalities. I’ll have to lay in a couple of bandannas, for sure. Especially since one other consequence of the dry weather is a need to wear lip balm all the time to keep mouths from cracking. Then the airborne grit just loves to stick to that stuff. Ick.

    Jake, if Lori’s willing to make a slight detour, I’ll ask her to drop me off at your place next time the wind demons attack, okay? Appreciate the offer.

    But today … today we’re expecting 75 degrees and breezes of no more than 15 mph. The sun shines over the junipers and the rocky grottos in the side washes. And … I think I’ll stay for a while.

Leave a Reply