Spirit of the Wind that dances through the trees; Spirit of the Wind in every branch and leaf; Spirit of the Wind, who teaches me to see; Spirit of the wind, I sing this song to thee…” Song by Lisa Thiel
“Squalls” they call them. Wind and heavy rain sweep across the coastline and on over the mountains to turn into snowstorms on Mount Hood. One after another, they pound the earth with water and strip the trees of leaves. Eleven inches in five days and more on the way. Today there is a glimmer of sun between storms. Walking the creek path, I discover two alders have been taken by the rushing water, leaving a huge root hole in the path. The dogs stand looking into the hole bewildered. How did the path, which should stay the same, suddenly change into this cavern? Making my way tenuously along the edge, I am just thinking I have not seen any salmon coming up the creek yet this year, when one swirls in the water just below me—an ancient mother, battered, and determined, battling the roaring current inch by inch.
This time of year, as we head into the dark, everything seems in motion—the water, the earth, the wind, the trees, the leaves…yes, and even the driveway as the gravel washes down the hill to pool at the bottom. Listening to the roar of rock moving in the creek with the force of the waters and the wind whipping the trees, I am reminded of the prologue of an ancient Sumerian myth, “Enki, the God of Waters, set sail for the Underworld; small windstones were tossed up against him; large hailstones were hurled up against him; like onrushing turtles, they charged the keel of his boat; the waters of the sea devoured the bow of his boat like wolves; the waters of the sea struck the stern of his boat like lions…” Surely, this is a scene from November on the Oregon Coast!
The dogs and I have been testing the wind velocity on the Nehalem Bay beach. I have concluded that four legs are definitely superior to two when wind walking. So far gusts have been only forty to fifty miles per hour. Since I don’t have a lot of body mass, it is exhilerating to move with the wind, almost like flying. But when we make our way back, I use a stick to help anchor me in the sand. Staring at my feet as I move ponderously forward, I notice how the sand has been etched into rhythmic wave patterns. It seems I move only inch by inch, occasionally ducking behind a stump to catch my breath—another ancient mother finding her way home. The dogs leap on ahead. Catching the wildness of wind, Husky Dreya gives a howl and does a joyous Husky twirl while Jindo Snowfire releases his exuberance by frantically digging a hole and growling his mantra—fly sand! fly!
SOUTH WIND HAS A BLAST
People who live on the North Coast will tell you that South Wind loves to travel up the coast in the winter time changing things as he goes. In the old days, he had many headbands. Sometimes he would put on his headband for making the trees dance and just have fun as the tops swayed and swirled. When he wore this headband he would comb Ocean’s hair and white spray would fly from deep glistening waves. Sometimes he would wear the headband that broke off branches and even the tops of the trees, tossing them onto the earth and into the water. He loved to watch Ocean dance when he wore this headband. Other times, but not as often, he would put on the most powerful of his headbands, and when he walked the earth, large trees would fall. The earth shook with the sound. The forest roared like a huge beast or a giant freight train.
I confess to feeling insignificant in the face of elemental forces, but I am also enlivened by them. Today, South Wind is my companion as I watch the gusts take the trees for a dance. People often ask me, “don’t you feel alone out there?” The truth is that I don’t. There is always so much going on around me. The rainforest is a place where change is constant—streams and rivulets appear and disappear; banks and trails disappear; gravel and sand bars appear and disappear, trees fall. But the forest also has the power of regeneration. Over and over again she blooms in Beauty.
Sometimes, I am, however, afraid. It has taken me eight years to write of the time when fear took over for what seemed an endless 36 hours. These days they call that storm “The Great Coastal Gale of 2007.” At first it didn’t seem like it was going to be too bad. I picked up the news at Wanda’s café. “Worst Storm of the Year to Hit the Coast.” I wasn’t too worried. I had been through “worst storms” before. I continued on with my errands. Later as I walked out of a shop in Manzanita, I realized that the rain was blowing horizontally—and hard. I’d better get home, I thought. Trees were beginning to whip around, and I felt lucky to make it down North Fork and especially along the smaller country roads without obstacles.
What happened next was what seemed endless hours of constant noise, motion,—and fear. The tranquil landscape of the forest became trees bent over sideways in torturous positions, the loud cracking and boom of trees breaking and crashing to earth, the house shaking with the vibration, the roar of the wind like a freight train running down the trees. Out the back window, I saw clumps of trees falling—two or three at a time, huge rootballs tipping up out of the soft earth, the whole hillside behind me (just below ODF’s new logging road) like a river of trees coming toward me. They say the gusts were clocked at 130 mph before the instruments broke. For the first time, I experienced what it might be like to be in a war zone. At any moment, the house, the dogs, and I might be crushed by falling trees.
I paced up and down the main room looking out the windows at the writhing forest. And I prayed to South Wind: “Please go easy on Wanderland. We have respected the elements, loved the earth, and worked for Beauty.” At that moment, I saw the face of South Wind outlined clearly against the black of the trees. He was almost classic—with puffy cheeks and streaming hair. With a jolt, I felt in that moment, a connection, an acknowledgement. This reply came clearly: “Maybe I will and maybe I won’t. I have a Will of my own. And right now, I am having a Blast!”
The storm raged for 36 hours—and then we were trapped for several more days until neighbors armed with chainsaws freed the roads. There was no power for ten days, but the phone worked. I could call out to family and friends. For this lifeline, I will always be grateful to Nehalem Telephone. But our landscape had been changed: behind me was devastation where once had grown a magical forest, home of bear, elk and many other animals. Log jams blocked trails, huge root balls marked cavernous holes where once the trees had stood. But the Forest House was not touched, though the stream of fallen trees came with 150 feet.
After a week of cold and dark, I escaped South to Yachats, where I rented a motel room and had five baths in one day! I have never felt anything so wonderful. In a restaurant that night, surrounded with sparkling Christmas lights, I was in shocked Bliss.
So what is the moral of the story and the trickster South Wind? Elemental Forces do have a Will of their own. We do not control them. At the same time, we had best pay attention to our actions. Usually a forest moves as a single body in the wind. South wind, however, always the opportunist, found the channel cleared by ODF great fun in creating momentum for his slide.
An earlier version of this post was published at wanderlandrainforest.org.