Many decades ago I visited a park called Lake Hope in southern Ohio. It became one of my favorite places on Earth; I would like some of my ashes to be scattered there. The WPA-era lodge was built into a hillside about a thousand feet (or so it seemed) above a lake of astonishing Caribbean blue, surrounded by forest.
As I was sitting on the slope below the lodge gazing at the lake one moody late summer afternoon, I heard distant white noise like flowing water. It grew steadily nearer. Presently leaves began to blow uphill past my body, then twigs and scraps of bark. Two bright yellow birds flew by at close range. The whole forest began to move with the wind; the lake wrinkled and reflections flattened. I looked up and saw violet clouds racing toward the hilltop, darkening as they rolled. It was the first time I heard the wind coming.
Having lived for the last 25 years in quite a different forest in mountains 2500 miles from Ohio, I’ve become accustomed to the sound of wind coming. Here, the Douglas Firs stand 200 feet or more with a lush understory of oak and madrone. When the wind is coming you hear the firs first, little cyclones of air climbing among their highest branches. Then the diffuse white noise slides underneath those sworls of sound, and presently the wind arrives, resolving into the individual music of particular trees and leaves. In stronger winds, a madrone caught in the embrace of an old oak squeaks and wails. Stronger still, and one may hear branches and trees fall.
Tonight for the first time in a long while I mistook the sound for rushing water in the creek; there was an unusual rain yesterday. It was the wind rising up from the canyon as cool arms of fog reached in from the sea through the San Lorenzo valley. Trees whipped and sighed, then relaxed again into the peace of a starry night.
Ever since that day at Lake Hope, I’ve known when I hear the wind coming. Rarely, as I did tonight, I tell myself it’s water moving, like the living lace of creeks woven over the hillsides in early spring, until the last moment when the trees begin to swirl and sway. Why prefer water to wind? Those glittering white creeks are love itself. The moss on the trees becomes exuberant when the water arrives. When the wind comes, what it means and what will follow is less clear, more wild.
What would have been a busy summer vacation has become a very long Now. I’ve left my third career – higher education – after 14 years. I know it is the time and place and moment for wind. I am turning my face toward it. I grow exuberant.