• Roberta Rathert

Wind.


The wind is a felt spirit, mysterious and revered. Unseen but known, completely indestructible. Humans know better than to try to hook it like a fish or bottle it as if water. Dams hold back water but no structure holds back wind. It blows through walls and under a roof, making windows rattle and trees whistle. Of humans and wind, the stronger is wind. This is why it is feared by us and seen as ominous. We’re told how fast wind will be and where it might come from, but it shifts by dawn. It is out of our hands the humans. I have seen windmills draw up water from the earth but when the wind comes too fast, the stop-lever is pulled to save the blades from tearing in too-strong wind. Civilization built shelter for numerous reasons but the highest one, to save people from wind. Yet I still love the wind. When humans or baby will not come to life, we blow wind into lungs to wake them. Wind is life. It brings alive our spirit to join with Spirit. Wind is a spirit so powerful and unshakable, of its own accord, moving or not moving things on impulse.


Sleeping in a three-pound nylon tent pinned to the ground with four stakes, outside in the night, brings wind right to my door. I have rested with my arms folded under my head, waiting. What is the wind up to out there? It never whipped itself up to lift my tent or tear its door entirely off. Wind clatters like a rattlesnake to let me know it is there, this making me humble and bothered all at once, from the need to admit the wind is supreme. I bow my head to God, then go to sleep soundly while the wind is just outside and stirring up something on its own. I even now love the wind.


Today on my walk, I went three miles hoping for a breeze. It came abruptly from behind a wall or randomly from trees in a row, then it left. I wanted more than was doled out but had no say. As I walked, I thought how invisible the wind, how we know it by feel or how it causes things to move. It does so much without a motor or fuel or wheels or sails, and no help from people or animals. During nights at the farm, we knew northern wind by a steady flap of steel against steel, a loosened corner of the barn roof striking on itself. Southern winds came, too, making a separate beat from sheets on the opposite face so high up. Stormy times made music up there when both ends wagged all night, composing plain tunes and rhythms that kept us awake till gusts passed us and we could rest.


Wind is a lot of things to humans. It brings water to the surface and power to our homes. Wind carries things, crashes other things, and scares us. It snaps and breaks old trees. It freshens the stuffy. It blows stink off of our clothes after winter. Our farmhouse was built by a man and his hands in 1865, like the barn, and his ax swipes are still seen on the attic beams and hay mow. They are big, rock-solid, against the wind, so we could miss a storm when it came over the place. On a summer day, we saw chickens and farm elements flying horizontally through the yard and across our window view, the only way we knew a storm was out there. No shaking or rattling, no vibration of any sort, but a neighbor’s house shattered and a trailer upturned in a field with the resident, who was napping but now stood stupefied in the rubble. Wind did not hurt us but harmed others nearby. That is how wind does, we never know till it's over. This is wind making things wear down, break apart, all done suddenly. It can be for the good or not, but how do we know till it’s done.

Years in a windy city where I lived and worked, Chicago. Much dispute about this, whether the windy name comes from an old politician who talked too much or the city sitting next to a great lake where wind pours off. It swirls around tall buildings, through the loop, then spins and eddies down subway tunnels. It could be both but, as a longtime resident, I know about this wind. Driving after work, I saw a woman the wind had blown over. Her fingertips touched the ground by her toes, balancing intricately so not to fall. The strength of the wind kept her teetering this way. Her long skirt had blown up, then down and over her head to blind the face. While the fierce lake wind held her, nobody rushing home could stop. I found a way to pull over and draw her into my car from the grassy edge. She was already elderly. Already homeless and by now, alone. The wind did this to her anyway. She had no fightback, no one to call, and nowhere to go. I wondered why this happened to her and not to me or someone else. After Lake Shore Drive, she only wanted food and to get out of my car. She directed me to a large and empty house where a heavy concrete porch was covered with people. She didn’t want to share her food, she said. Inside were others who welcomed her, but not me. Forty years passed now and a profound wind encounter continues to stick in my mind.


On the river, wind did not end my traveling adventure, but it was continuously with me as if riding along. Day one I did not notice there was light wind, calm and pleasant. Day two I paddled against heavy wind through a large and long lake where this wind made itself at home. The brutal waves slapped me and pushed against my progress for hours. By day’s end, I was diminished after being whittled into a smaller shape by the wind’s sharp energy.


Heat and cold, rain, darkness, velocity of water, not one of these a leader like wind. Each day’s gauge began with wind assessment. From what direction, how fierce, is it twisting or straight-on, is it gentle and light? Is it low on the surface or over the trees, will it raise up the water to bind me and my boat? Wind’s nature is most critical over all as it makes rain into bullets of lead on skin or the air so thick and hot to draw in. During flood, wind moved the water quickly and fitfully causing me to call for help. Twice. During midday on the 56,000-acre Winnibigoshish, wind raises water in seconds to six feet by blowing 40 mph over a 12-mile fetch. Lake Pepin, a smaller but 30,000-acre lake, is sometimes worse despite its half-size to Winnie. With 20-mile ridges, Wisconsin east and Minnesota west, makes the lake bottom two miles wide. The wind is known here for its intensity across the width and against the ridge walls. The Coast Guard reported rescue of paddlers all summer, including me and those who cannot reach land, who take on water from high windblown waves, or lose navigation when the wind will not let go. Lake Winnibigoshish is famous for waves that come rapidly and so close together there is no time for cover. This is how it is with the wind out there.

These are stories of wind, invisible but moves the visible to let us know it is there. We only see what the wind has done. To be unseen and still have the power to move a house or lake of water, to bring down an aged-old tree or break a roof, mess up our hair, blow away a hat, or cool a sweltering face, it is awesome. Wind will not be warned or told when to come or where to go. Asking it to stop will bring frustration to anyone when the wind blows on its own. The wind whistles but its sound is only against something else since it has no noise of its own. It comes winding around a corner or through limbs of tall trees, rattling panes and doors, splashing water, and threatening my tent flaps. Wind as mysterious we find when we are told tomorrow’s breeze is northern but then comes due south when we wake at sunrise. God is spirit. Humans are spirit. Spirit is wind and wind as spirit. Holy, sacred, blessed. Compatible but cautious as we go our ways, we are never quite sure because we think we are different.






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Check out the news coverage that aired this week with WXOW and how we are changing course with this new phase of Paddling for Hope. A special thank you to Dustin Luecke for your continued coverage and

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