Roving thoughts and provocations

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The Blustering Blast

Jan Jansson: Map of the Winds, c. 1650 (detail)

For someone like me who lives in New Hampshire, cold and snow are things I take in stride, the way I fancy the inhabitants of the tropics barely take notice of the hot muggy days they have there. It’s the howling wind that discombobulates me, the one a neighbor calls “Labrador Express,” conjuring up for me visions of the bleak landscape of that great peninsula in eastern Canada that once I surveyed in horror from a low-flying plane.

My house sits above a large frozen lake open to the wind, except for a few bare trees waving their branches as if beseeching the gods on my behalf. During the day, the howling wind gets competition from all the sounds in the house, but when night falls it can display all its nastiness to its heart’s content. If there’s a power failure, as there was for four days recently, and we are reduced to living by the wood stove in one room and depending on candles, oil lamps and flashlights to find our way around the cold, dark house, there’s no other sound for us to hear.

Since it’s hard to read very long by an oil lamp and even harder on the eyes with the help of a candle or two, we rarely stay up past eight o’clock. A flashlight in bed is a possibility, but no book can compete with a wind blowing across hundreds of miles of snow and then honing its madness to a high pitch on the loose gutter outside my bedroom window. At such moments, it is impossible not to take its howling personally. Most certainly, this wind is mocking me. It’s telling me you are nothing, nothing, nothing…

Just to show me what it means, it wants to tear my house down and carry me off out of bed for a whirl in the midnight sky before depositing me on our frozen lake, or perhaps further, somewhere closer to the North Pole where it has a rendezvous with some of its bedlamite pals. No wonder those who wax lyrical about the beauties of nature never mention this lunatic whom the ancients used to depict on old maps with swollen cheeks and hair and a beard spiked with ice to warn travelers into the far north what to expect.

According to the Eddur, the collection of old Norse poems, there was once no heaven above nor earth beneath, but only a bottomless deep. I believe it! If I remember correctly, they also talk about some kind of mist in between and even a warm breeze, but as far as I’m concerned, they got their creation story all wrong. There was a howling wind in the beginning and there’ll be a howling wind in the end. If you doubt me, look in the eyes of a cat or a dog on a night like that. They know it, and they don’t like it a bit. We don’t sleep a wink and they don’t either. “Thank God, spring is coming,” we say to each other in the dark. Yeah, sure, the eyes of our animals are telling us, but how are we going to get through this night?

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