Friday, February 10, 2006

Thoughts About East Winds

I'm not sure why the "East Wind" has played such a role in my life, but it seems to continue to reoccur and I am always aware of its pressure and influence.

As a kid I grew up mainly in Southern California, mostly in mid-San Diego County, and I can remember the awful Santa Ana winds coming out of the eastern deserts, hot and dry and gusty. I remember huge billowing columns of dust over a thousand feet high choking us and drying out our nose and throat. I can see still some of the enormous walls of flame as the east wind hurled the fire across hillsides and through valleys of sage, mesquite, manzanita, and greasewood. Winds of 50 and 60 miles an hour and more seared the county clear to the beaches at Oceanside and Carlsbad.

During my college time in Los Angeles, the winter east winds would sweep through the passes and drive the smog out over the ocean and bring in its place a pale dun sky of airborne sand and grit. The stately old palms which endured everything else with stoic and impervious indifference would thrash and twist their mighty fronds until they began shearing off and flying away like the severed wings of some mortally wounded pterodactyl.

Away from L.A. at last, Betty and I settled in Beaumont, California, for a couple of years right in the middle of the San Gorgonio Pass between Palm Springs and Riversisde/San Bernadino. This five mile wide notch wa exactly the only point where two massive mountain ranges allowed wind from the eastern deserts to sweep through to scour the huge cities toward the coast. The wind was more severe there than anywhere else. Not only did we have east wind, we had ALL of the east wind entering the western quarter of California howling past us and taking anything not anchored down with it. Cars left outdoors would give up their paint as would the protruding corners of wooden window sills and doorframes of and even some of the edges of brick and stone buildings. A garden would be reduced to chaff and stubble in hours. According to local legend, in early times a man who committed murder after the second day of these Indian Winds could not be convicted as he was clearly "crazy by reason of the the east wind".

When we moved to Alaska, I might have thought my east winds would be behind me, or at least far to the south, but I soon experienced one of the most impressive east winds of all: the raging Taku Winds of Southeastern Alaska. Briefly, the flow of supercold air over the vast mountain icecaps would spill that enormous sub-zero mass over the coastal ridges and down the river valleys westward to sea level. As it fell and warmed, it also expanded, creating one of the gustiest and powerful local tempests ever. Thes gales could sustain themselves for days with velocities approaching one hundred miles an hour and gusts above that. Consider it carefully before visiting Juneau in the winter.

Once we moved south again, we found a peaceful-looking country acre east of Vancouver and settled down again, only to have the hair blown off our legs several times a year by east winds out of the Columbia Gorge. Again we found ourselves in the gunsight of the only notch in a mountain range - this time the Cascade Mountains of Washington and Oregon - and learned the hard way that it is the only major passage for wind from east to west for a hundred miles north or south. Under certain conditions high pressure weather moves south out of Canada into the Columbia Basin east of the Cascades. If the Pacific Ocean contributes an offshore low pressure system, and it almost always does, the air wants to go from "high" to "low" and its super-freeway is the gorge, which is due (wait for it... ... wait, wait, ta-ta...That's right!) Due East of us. The uniqueness of this location is that when the wind begins, it continues for long days and nights and it howls and shreaks and rattles, and tears limbs off of trees, hurls assorted debris parallel to the ground, rips the tarps off of the wood piles, stacks waist high piles of leaves in the fence corners, fells tall Douglas Firs and centuries old oaks (often destroying the homes below), sinks boats and boathouses along the river, downs power lines, and much other similar mischief.

Our east winds have been blowing for almost two days now and show no signs yet of letting up. I was pruning trees in the orchard yesterday in the morning and before 11:00 A.M. my face was wind burned even though the temperature was cooler than fifty degrees, I was literally blown off of the ladder once, and the ladder was blown over several other times when my weight was not on it holding it firmly down. I had to quit and come inside.

Do you realize how many times in the Bible there is a mention of the east wind? Almost every reference, actual or metaphoric, is negative. In dreams and in reality the east wind scorches the ears of corn and brings plagues of locust, and divides the seas, and breaks the ships of Tarshish, and scatters the people, withers the crops and desiccates the fruit, and (getting on the nerves) blows continually, dries up the fountains and springs of life sustaining water in the deserts, plunders every precious article, and serves in one case as discipline for a prophet named Jonah. Biblical east winds have a punitive reputation.

We are stuck inside the house. I 'm beginning to feel "crazy".

I don't like any wind. I particularly dislike an east wind.

I'm ready for more rain instead.

Breezily, Papa John


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