I fear the whispering wind and the messages it brings me. It loosens worries from my head in unnerving gusts. I fear the whispers will become raised voices, shouts, screams of terror that pull waves from the ocean floor, rip slates from roofs, and send gulls spinning and shrieking and competing with plastic bags that rise like souls from the dead. For the whispering wind can be a prelude, like it was this week, to a destructive temper tantrum that leaves me cowering. Outside my kitchen window, two floors up, a cable has come loose – a ten-foot eel that smacks against the glass and flicks back and forth, whipping the treetop. Further into the backgreen, the birch yields, rocking and bending, peelings of white bark fluttering in frayed flags as the wind rips open its trunk in a frenzied attack. Unharvested sprouts lie prostrate, crying, ‘I submit to your battering’. They keel then kneel, splayed into the dirt. I catch the eye of the woman in the flat opposite, both of us doing dishes, both of us look away, adhering to an unspoken rule. A summer seat has blown onto its side, a lavender has fallen from its spot on a dividing stone wall, the terracotta pot in which it grows has split clean into two. Someone’s abandoned Christmas tree, a small spruce in a black bucket, slumps like a drunk in the gutter. Along the wall a cat runs, crouched low to the coping, down it jumps and runs to a flap, its tail disappearing into the warmth of home.
Once, on Skye, I visited a huddle of cottages on a cliff edge by the western seaboard. Their thatch was tethered down with ropes looped tight over them, like the hoops of a barrel, and fixed to the ground by huge stones. ‘Really?’ My American friend said when we saw them on that calm summer’s day. ‘Yes.’ I told him. ‘Really. That’s how windy it gets.’ They say it drives you mad, the wind. By mad, I mean more than stirs you up, or irritates, or annoys. I mean really drives you insane. Is it the unrelenting noise that tips us? Or is it the unpredictability of what it can wreak? It presses my alert button and recalibrates my hearts to dread. I think about staying low, like the cat. Hunker down. Pull the curtains. Avoid turrets and garrets and towers and places that swirl. Maybe a small cottage looking out onto the Atlantic, built with its belly to the earth and its roof fastened to the soil; maybe that’s the place to be. On a low stool by an open fire in a cottage with small windows and a door with its back to the prevailing wind. Maybe that’s where I should take root, burrow. Eventually, though, the wind will have said all it has to say, divested itself of all its raving, and it will drop again to whispering. This time it’s a whispering of a different quality; one that is a prelude to silence. My mind eases, my battered heart returns to its even pump, pump, pump. But calm and stillness soon gives way to sounds that the wind swallowed when at its height, and old familiar noises are spat back out into the day.
‘I shook you up, though,’ the wind whispers to me before it dies, ‘rattled you out of your complacency. Don’t get too comfortable. You need me. I’ll be back.’ I hear a soft, low whistle – then nothing. Old sounds bubble up: the hum of a car engine, the beep of the green man, the click and clack of the wheels of a child’s scooter moving over the cracks, an ambulance siren somewhere in the distance.
The Wind, by Vikram Seth
With no companion to my mood,
Against the wind as it should be,
I walk, but in my solitude
Bow to the wind that buffets me.