ADMONITIONS FROM THE WIND

I GET along with the wind OK. I have to. We've been working together for years. I work outdoors almost entirely. So does the wind. I use to work on a sheep ranch in northern California. Wind ripped through there fiercely a lot of the time. Often, the people I worked with complained about it. But the head woman there said it was no use to complain about the wind. It blew anyway. She liked it. When her children were small, she hung diapers on the line, and they were very soon dry. The wind did that for her. I saw her point. See the good in it. Fighting it will just wear you down.

There was a feeding area on the side of the hill. Sheep's hooves chopped the manure down fine. The wind picked it up, carried it down the hill, and let it drop where a sharp bank had been cut in the hill to let a dirt road through.

I built a flower garden for my wife, Laura, and a vegetable garden in our back yard, and I helped build up the soil for Laura's mother's garden. I backed the pickup to the sheep manure. It was easy to load, about two feet deep right there, so I didn't have to chase all over the ranch after fertilizer. It was easy to work into the garden soil.

Laura's zinnias, without exaggeration, were huge and lasted weeks in a vase. Our small garden in the back yard and Laura's mother's garden did really well. The wind had been kind to leave the manure like that for me.

When I cut wood along the edge of Whitney Valley, I kept a place in reserve, where I had cut the dead trees down for an acre or so. If the wind got too forceful for it to be safe cutting where dead trees were standing, I moved into my reserve area and cut wood. Sometimes the wind was fierce for days on end, and I worked my entire reserve into firewood. That was OK. There were ditches and fences that needed attention on the open meadow.

The wind sometimes presented me with exciting challenges, as if to say, ``Let's see how much you remember about force vectors and how well you can combine that kind of theoretical knowledge with what you've learned from cutting a few hundred cords of wood.''

I got out of the woods in a hurry one afternoon when high wind whistled into my work area. Three days later, when the wind died down, I said, ``Thanks. This sure does keep the job from getting boring.'' The wind had blown down 15 dead lodgepole pines and eight live ones, all in one tangle. I had to untangle it, because buried somewhere underneath was about 150 feet of fence that I had to rebuild.

Blow-downs are touchy and dangerous. Trees usually haven't fallen as far as they can. Everything that isn't broken might be stressed toward breakage. Green trees especially, when bent, hold a terrific amount of potential energy, like giant springs that will snap toward straight when cut in the bend. They are often shattered through the bend, so they can act like many springs bound together, ready to release in 20 independent motions, to strike anything in the way and to bind saws and wedges. A cut anywh ere in the blow-down can affect the whole mass of trees.

What fun. It took me more than two weeks, because every time I got to a place where the next cut was particularly dangerous, I'd go work someplace else for a day or so to let ideas about how to approach the problem percolate through my mind. Every time the wind blew in to see how I was doing with the puzzle it had left for me, I'd say, ``I'm not going to work with you looking over my shoulder,'' and I'd go work in the open somewhere until it quit nosing around.

And there did come a day when I had many neat piles of branches out of the way, several cords of wood ready to load and haul, and a stretch of fence nicely repaired. I didn't say to the wind, ``Okay, let's see what you can do next.'' I learned long ago never to issue that kind of challenge.

Wind in Whitney Valley often conspired with rain and snow to see how serious I was about whatever work I was doing. I've had wind, even in June, plaster snow all down my back as I shoveled an irrigation ditch. I've had wind almost blow me off the motorcycle as I traveled across the meadow to irrigate. I took it in good humor.

I was home one day, writing songs, when the wind came to visit. I hadn't yet put a good latch on the back door. The wind blew the door open and blew every loose item in 40 directions. My daughter Juniper was about six then. I stationed her at the door between the back room and the center bedroom. ``Hold that door shut,'' I said, and I ran around the house and in the front door, closing doors and windows. I came back around, blocked the back door shut with a chunk of firewood, and turned around to find t he door between rooms wide open and Juniper nowhere in sight. I looked behind the door, where there was just enough room for a six-year old girl. There was Juniper, looking startled and a little afraid. ``I couldn't hold it,'' she said, as if she thought I might admonish her for not doing the job I'd given her. I didn't, though. I already knew the wind had been telling me: Don't put too much responsibility on a child.

I found songs scattered over more than an acre of sagebrush. I found everything but one page of a two-page song. I looked for a while, but finally decided the wind was right. That song had serious problems and deserved blowing away.

When we took care of Tomahawk Ranch, my friend the wind often came to visit. There was construction going on. The contractors blamed the wind for litter when it blew away empty cement sacks, plastic tarps, even sheets of plywood. I didn't blame the wind. It was part of its regular duty to rip down through that small valley, rearranging everything that was loose. I blamed the builders who didn't adequately secure their materials.

One night there, the wind was so enthusiastic that the big glass windows in the front room bowed in. So did the sliding glass doors in our bedroom. Forty pound pieces of firewood blew around the porch. The woodbox cover blew open, ripped loose its hinges, and slammed against the house. I had to go out and rearrange things so nothing could blow through the windows.

I picked up our improperly discarded Christmas tree, and the wind decided to do that job for me. It took it out of my hands, blew it 50 feet into the air and up the hill to a secure place, where it would be safe until morning. I leaned 45 degrees to stay on my feet, and shifted to 45 degrees in the other direction as the wind changed. Bit-by-bit, I got all the materials secured.

When I got back inside, we weren't sure about the wind's intentions for the areas of big glass, so Laura and I carried our mattress into Amanda's room, where there was only one small window, and slept there.

Now we're managing Magic Sky ranch, and my friend the wind comes to visit. It helps me plan my work. It reminds me that the office screen door is loose and needs attention. It calls loose gutters on various buildings to my attention. It reminds me never to leave any potential litter unsecured. And to get the dead trees cut down in a calm time so they aren't an unpredictable force in some strong wind. If there are any loose shingles on any of the roofs, the wind points that out for me.

As with just about any friend, there are times when I don't want to be with the wind. If I have heeded its admonitions about keeping the work caught up, I can come inside and leave it to its various peripatetic pursuits, resting confident that, partly because of its earlier reminders, little will be lost when I do go back out.

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