Thursday, February 23, 2017

Wind in the Wires

The wind in the wires made a tattle-tale sound
 And a wave broke over the railing
 And every man knew, as the captain did too, 
T'was the witch of November come stealin'
- The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald  - Gordon Lightfoot

The wind is howling outside, though the skies are clear. Watching Partner in Grime's flight come into O'Hare on FlightStalker, I imagined the turbulence they were getting - having been a pilot too many years.

As soon as I saw they were taxiing to the gate I texted him a line from a Monty Python skit that alway makes us both laugh.

"Bouncy Bouncy?"
They call Chicago the windy city but on average, it's not particularly windy up here, the expression referring more to the blather of politics than anything meteorological.

I was in Wichita once on business, and I remember the wind howling outside my room each and every night. I could only imagine settling in that place, listening from one's crude cabin or homestead, to that hollow sound that only enhanced the loneliness as I lay there and wondered why I did not matter, as I mattered once.
There were many more nights like that in my life, perhaps in another hotel room, perhaps at home, lying in the bed with just the dog for company, listening to a loud sigh that could have been the wind, had it not come from my own lips. I'd lay there, listening for something that I couldn't yet hear, as outside, the declining moon crept away as if eroded by the constant touch of the night.

Growing up we went to the coast on most of our vacations, staying in a little rental cabin that was beachfront, only an earth and wooden barrier to protect against storm surge.  We went back there in 2014, one last trip with Dad, as a weather system brought high winds to the coast one night.  I wondered if Dad was sleeping through it or if he was laying awake, knowing this was his last trip here, listening to the wind bring back so many memories of our youth on this land, even if the cabin had been torn down for condominiums that blocked the sun.
Years later, there were the nights in deer camp, laying with my companions around the remains of a fire. This wasn't bear country, nor even cougar country, so we lay under the clear sky to sleep. I would try and stay awake as the sky went from the hazy blue of solitude to a twinkling of a million shining eyes as if heavens angels looked down on us with a gaze that was as inscrutable as the souls that lay softy sleeping around me. From the sound of the snores, I was the only one awake, and I relished the night, the wind, even if it didn't speak to me.

I like the dull roar of the wind, but I'm probably odd in that I prefer stormy weather to calm, unless I'm aloft in it.  There is something about the clash of weather systems, the way the sky changes, the sounds, the colors, I am always the one standing outside like an idiot in the rain, turning my face up to the skies when there's a particularly good lightning storm in the distance, instead of hunkering down in safety.  Put me on a quiet sunny beach somewhere south and I would be bored out of my mind.
But it is NOT fun to pilot a plane in and on the first week of work after I hung up my professional wings, the crash of something outside in the wind waking me up, my first thought was not "I'm really going to miss going flying" but "I am SO glad I don't have to go out in this!" as from outside,the skies let loose like a hot, hissing shower.

For wind in an airplane is a whole other matter.When flying a plane, wind is the essence of your day. You want enough headwind to give you some good lift on takeoff, and not so much crosswind to cartwheel you when you come back. It seems that only those that love the sky, sea or outdoors, those truly in sync with nature seem to pick up on the inertial energy in the wind.So many things get blown away in a stiff breeze, so many things swept out of your mind with the wind in your face in an open cockpit. Repressed longings, fruitless desire, ghosts of sad reflection, a hundred thoughts never formed and a thousand words never uttered. Wind in your face, sweeping your head of any emotion other than the moment, until all is blown past you to tumble to the earth below. In that moment nothing matters but breathing.
So on those early storm tossed days, when  I was a rookie pilot and it was too rough to go out, in any airplane, we simply sat in the hangar with a cup of coffee and our flying study guides, watching the clouds build and the thunder roll. Watching the atmosphere of the heavens, contemplating the atmosphere of our lives, as the surface of the earth, the surface of our skin heats, particles of warm air rising with breath. Watching the storm build, a rich offering calling for some bolder hearts than ours.

In later years, when flying was not just something I'd signed on to do, but my paycheck, sitting on the ground was NOT an option short of severe icing, freezing rain, zero visibility at the landing airport and typhoons (and spiders, don't ask about the time the airplane got infested with spiders). No, on those days when the wind was blowing, when it was not unsafe, just uncomfortable, off you'd go. You'd spend a few hours getting bounced around like you were in a paint shaker, sometimes dodging thunderstorms as well, only to land, the back of your shirt wet from sweat, knowing "gee - I get to go out and do that again!" And you would, looking at the sky on such flights as an adversary, much as the Knights of old did, gauging the aim of your foe and how hard and from what direction the thrust would come.
One night the thunderstorms were bad, not in a long  defined line between point A and Point B which usually means a cancelled flight, but just popping up quickly around the valleys like whack a mole. With them came furious winds that even 20 miles from the nearest thunderstorm cell were buffeting our craft. The rain, the lightning, those were foes that made us work as a team, adjusting cockpit lighting, ensuring the engine ignitions were on, all those subtly complex tasks we did as words flowed as we plotted, and planned, and parried.

But the wind was something else. When the wind broke hard against the windscreen like a Molotov cocktail, the cockpit went totally silent and stayed that way. Wind has a way of isolating, it's battle against you - one that is personal, one that separates you from your companion in spirit as it ties to wrest something away from you that you do not wish to give up. Give me a landing in heavy rain any day over one where the airport is overrun by the treachery of shifting winds. (especially in the Sherpa which was not known as the "flying billboard" for nothing).
On that night of thunderstorms, were were on our last leg, on downwind, with the airport in sight, when a large transport ahead on final approach went around (aborted the landing at low altitude) and fled south, citing wind shear, those sudden changes in speed and direction which can be deadly. We delayed by extending our flight path south where there was rain but no thunderstorms our only moral support, the feeble gleam of the Starboard navigation light, bobbing in the spray like a buoy. Just as we were ready to call to ask to go to our alternate airport a couple planes landed safely, that particular cell having moved away from the airport, but I was REALLY happy to get on the ground. We thought we were done for the night, when we got orders to do ONE more flight. Fortunately while I was trying to explain to operations just WHY that wasn't the greatest idea as a fresh line of weather rolled in, lightning hit the control tower, catching it on fire.

No, I don't miss nights like that.
So tonight, as the wind roars, I'm happy to be home, in our house among the trees  - to write, my husband safely on the ground, the house warm and snug. Outside every so often there is a "thump" as someone's garbage can goes tumbling. The wind is not forecast to abate any time soon, so as we lay in bed tonight, just before drifting off to sleep, I'll listen to it some more.

For the wind is not a silent threat any longer, it's a comfort - a familiar sound in a discord of voices. It's the sound that drives me closer to the form that lays beside me, the one that is the rock that shields me from future pain. It's the awareness that I am alive, more alive then all those days I was almost NOT alive.  It's the fury and grace of Heaven, which doesn't promise us calm skies, but will hold us up, no matter what life throws our way
I snuggle down into the crook of my husbands' neck, Abby the Rescue Labrador snoring from her second bed in the closet where she hides when it thunders. Outside the wind is no longer voiceless - on it I hear the sound of the sea, the hush of the forest, and the muffled whoosh of a jet engine. I hear it like the strong and invulnerable sound that carries on it an infinity of hope and heart, the wind that will pronounce unafraid words of faith on my last days when heavens fall and redemption is at hand.

As I drift off to sleep, the winds from heaven blow unabated as the city sleeps, across the quiet streets, between the mute and remembering dwellings.
- Brigid


Old NFO said...

Beautifully evocative of the true power of Mother Nature. And it does get a 'tad' bumpy on nights like that... That's the price we pay to be aviators, days and nights where we actually have to 'earn' our paychecks.

Chickenmom said...

What a wonderful post, Brigid ~ you are always a joy to read!