December 1999 came in like a lion roaring out of the 20th Century. I was on my way to Gray Lodge Wildlife Area, looking forward to what appeared at first to be a clear, calm day. But out in the valley that anticipation faded as wind roared across the open space as if an aerial attack from Canada.
In my steel covered automobile though, I was sheltered and could enjoy the thrashing of the terrain without being exposed to the cold windy invader. Trees whipped to and fro, their precious autumn leaves sent asunder to rapidly indicate the turn of the season.
If I was buffeted by the blast, the birds were doubly affected, especially the birds of prey of the soaring type. A few Turkey Vultures were trying to maintain dignity but were so troubled by shifting air currents that their ability to concentrate on finding dead animals was very upset. A Northern Harrier skimmed the marsh, but small animals were hidden away from the scary violence. I saw an American Kestrel perching tight against a cottonwood trunk, preferring to remain hungry rather than subject its small body to the wind.
Even the hardy ducks were nervous and erupted in flight when some sudden gust stirred the tules. Snow Geese landed and then would explode upward like a shifting blizzard, chattering in some unknown tongue, filled with the energy from invisible forces. There is a certain exhilaration in turbulent weather, suggested by John Muir when he spoke of the wind's effect on people. "Climb the mountains and get there good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you like sunshine into trees. The winds will blow their freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares fall away like autumn leaves." Disturbed wild animals might feel differently!
There is little shelter out in the fields for wild animals. They have only the coverings on their bodies to ward off perilous weather. The human condition requires ingenuity to create mobile protection from the elements, and the industrial engineering to produce those steel-and-glass covered vehicles. In that machine, there is the allowance to enjoy the aesthetic wonders of the earth and not be subjected to a constant quest for survival.
When riding in that rubber-tired creation, whether in the marshes of the valley or the sands of the desert and experiencing the cyclonic conditions of a frontal system, there is little understanding of what causes wind and the effects of shifting jet streams. We can only see the force expelled from that invisible monster as it churns the countryside, whipping the tree limbs and trying to unloose the rootage of grassy meadows.
Once I saw a dense cloud gathered over the Sutter Buttes, and a particular type of wind velocity was poised over the peaks, ready to descend in the funnel-shaped cloud of the tornado. I watched in awe as the uncontrollable system shifted in the sky, finally to merge into the masses of towering cumulus uprisings.
There is something wild and free about the wind. Something that everyone talks about but no one is able to manage. There are scientific efforts to explain the structure of our atmosphere and the variations the fluid clouds can take, but there is no control and only reasonable attempts to predict when the wind will come!
I love the wind so wild and free,
That races swiftly from the sea.
It brings a breath of salty spray
To kiss my hair and then away.
It rips across the dying grass,
With gusty hands that swiftly pass,
To blow its roaring breath on high
And whip the clouds across the sky.
It sings a song of freedom sweet,
A song of power wild and fleet.
Oh, how I love the wind so free
That races swiftly from the sea.
© 1999 Rex Burress
December 5, l999