Monday, July 19, 2010

A cruel wind

Thunder rumbles tentatively behind a solid grey, lowering sky. I picture it rolling in a big arc around the mountains, circling undecidedly. Rain could be on the way, but it might veer north. Either way, we hurry along the road, gravel crunching noisily beneath ten feet. With a blue leash in each hand, I march between Bear and Murdoch, their black shapes like bookends, only one shaggier and slightly taller than the other.

The first drops of cold rain fall when we reach the end of the road. I have just unhooked the dogs from their leashes. Murdoch skipping off to find a stick and Bear on the trail of an interesting scent. The air feels heavy with rain, the sky, menacing. I call the dogs back, re-attach their leashes and with profuse apologies, stride out for home.

We outpace the rain, staying within the sprinkle of the leading edge. Behind us, it falls harder and begins to sweep up the road. We reach the house as it starts to pour. The thunder has already moved on.

Inside we watch torrents of rain close in around the house, then, rain blowing sideways, great sheets moving in waves, like flags cracking and snapping angrily in the wind. Grey light falls in at the windows and stops short.

Morgan and I stand in the kitchen, watch the rain gusting back down the road, a roaring wind at its heels. The wind just showed up. It arrived a solid thing with great purpose, like the door of a vault clanging shut. We watch it mold the rain, mesmerized. Then the crack of a breaking tree, thunk and clatter on the roof.

A split second of stunned silence, eyes wide, mouths open. A parody of disbelief. We take the stairs at a run.

I scramble up the last flight to the top of the house and crane my neck to see, expecting a hole with branches poking through, stabbing at the bed, wet leaves and rain. There is nothing. Outside the window on the flat roof of the second story a huge branch curves out of sight. The tree that stands ten feet from the house has lost its top. It hit the roof, left an arm behind, before crashing to the ground, flattening the lid of the barbeque and driving its legs several inches into the earth.

Wind is an ever-present being in the woods. Trees are as much made by it as they are by the sun, earth and rain. It shapes them as they grow, like a river carving its way slowly, over time, through rock. But this wind, it doesn’t belong.

From the bedroom we watch, in the treetops ourselves now. Rain blurs the windows as if we are in a boat at sea where crashing waves slap against portholes. Outside the trees bend almost in half, like nothing more than grass and I am an ant in a field clinging to a single blade.

The animals have all sought refuge in the lowest parts of the house. Morgan mentions something about not being in the safest place where we are, but neither of us makes a move, unable to tear ourselves away from the spectacle of the wind throwing a violent, screaming temper tantrum.

Trees bend away from the house on one side and bang against it on the other. The wind is ceaseless, crashing, angry. Branches pelt the roof. Any minute I expect a tree to break through. For the first time since we moved in I think about cutting down the trees that grow within inches of the house.

Splintering sounds of great trunks being snapped in two fills the air. We feel helpless, will the wind to stop. Then as suddenly as it all began, the trees aren’t rocking so wildly, no longer pounding on the house. The rain tapers off. There is a breathless quiet in the forest, like the hollow silence that follows in the wake of a raging argument.

When the wind is gone we step tentatively outside into this altered world. We stare into leafy crowns of trees flopped on the ground like casually dropped bouquets of flowers. Deeper into the woods we can follow the path the wind took, leap-frogging it’s way through the trees. A swath of forest down here, trees completely uprooted and tumbled like dominoes, then a group of still standing trees there, then another patch where the sky looks bigger than it did before.

It starts to rain again as we pick our way through underbrush looking for the gleaming brightness of freshly broken trunks and tangles of roots now pointing to the sky, like someone tilted the world on its side. A morbid giddiness carries us. Our eyes scan as far ahead through the standing forest as they can see. What next? What next?

But there is a feeling of remorse in the air, a sense of things done that can’t be undone. We quietly mourn each tree, try to imagine getting used to so much sky. Even from inside the house the forest feels empty, the holes swallow us up.


  1. I lost my last comment - OUCH, again. "wewar" came out. What???

  2. I'll try again - A lot of the time, at least for me, the image is at the heart of the matter. Your last two entries are filled with vivid images not only fleshing in the world but also bringing us to see, to feel your vision, too. You see the pets in "Morning Rituals", you see the turmoil of the storm in "A Cruel Wind" and as we, the viewer, respond to these "paintings" our sensory equipment is virtually reset. We are given an alternative way of seeing the world. Your colourful and moving brushstrokes fill the canvas, splash a river of images onto the viewer's retina. Art can produce more than mere delight. Art can transform us.
    "Morning Rituals": From the opening photo of a cat's grainy tongue appropriately too close to the viewer's face, to light "quietly" seeping into the house, to Bear in "tiny tap dance" with "squeaky yawn", to Murdoch a stretched cat deeply yawning his dismay at a late breakfast, to Chestnut "draped" [that is the perfect verb here] over your arm purring "like an idling engine", we are pulled into the world of images you spill onto the page. We are brought close to these animals - our vision is altered.
    In "A Cruel Wind" a similar effect is produced as you bring this storm into our view, push its force against us: sheets of rain "like flags cracking", swinging wind a "door of a vault clanging shut" with the viewer now locked inside, wind "like a river carving" the trees, the aftermath with trees as fallen "bouquets" and "tumbled like dominoes". The whole world is "tilted" and the viewer is provoked into seeing and feeling this wild animal of a storm rushing through your property. The final tone is one of despair and emptiness. Art is more than soft massage. It can rough us up, scratch us, unsettle us, hit us, and in doing so can often rearrange our very sense of reality. These last two blogs point to that direction and I throw some applause your way, Heather. We get to "see" your world view. The image is the center, the fulcrum of these vivid "paintings".
    For something visual as reference, look for the following artists and their disorienting and shockingly beautiful paintings: late-Renaissance Carravagio's "The Beheading of St. John"; Van Gogh's "Potato Eaters", "Sunflowers", "Sower at Sunset", and "Wheatfield with Crows". Images can change the world.