Thar She Blows

Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said, Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?

—Job 38:1-2

This season my daughter was transformed into a hurricane. Rude and abusive things were said about her: “despite becoming a monster [a monster?], she will not pose any danger to land.”

Of course not. She’s always been a good girl.

As a hurricane, my daughter blew with winds of about 125 mph. Seems a fair breeze. I presume that all water creatures—birds, fish, boat-people—had sense enough to steer clear, as she churned through the Atlantic.

Because I live in the age of Science Men, I know that wind is a meteorological phenomenon. The flow of gases on a large scale. Movement of air in bulk. Generated by pressure dif-ferentials. Deflected by the Coriolis effect. Etc.

I know that wind no longer has anything to do with bumptious folk like Boreas, or Njord, or Fujin, the venerable Japanese deity who let the winds out of his magic bag in order to clear the primordial world of mist. I know that Stribog may be the Slavic grandfather “of the winds of the eight directions,” but the guy was placed in a Home, long ago, and no one really pays attention to him anymore. These days it’s all about specific heat, equations of motion, anemometers, and the Magnus effect.

But you know: why not both? Why can’t a hurricane be both an area of low atmospheric pressure, driven by the release of large amounts of latent heat of condensation, and also a pissed-off dude with a hundred hands and fifty heads, whipped into the world from the stormy pit of Tartaros? Or my daughter, turning over in her sleep, in dreams venting spleen at the hoary-handed robber barons of Kaiser?

In his novel Jack of Shadows, Roger Zelazny propounds a world that does not turn. Like the Moon, this alternative—or once or future—Earth has one face forever turned towards the sun, while the other lies eternally in darkness. On the sunward side the people are ruled by science; the darksiders are governed by magic.

The title character is a sport: though born a darksider, he draws his power not from a fixed site, as do other darkside creatures, but instead from shadow, which requires both darkness and light.

A second sport is Morningstar, a Luciferian creature who once saw things too clearly. And so, by jealous gods, he was transported to a mountaintop, his lower body turned to stone, fated to forever face east, against a dawn that never comes; only by the sunrise, can this winged creature be freed.

The people of the sun, and the darksiders, experience the same things, but perceive them in different ways. Says Jack:

“I have heard daysiders say that the core of the world is a molten demon, that the temperature increases as one descends toward it, that if the crust of the world be pierced then fires leap forth and melted minerals build volcanoes. Yet I know that volcanoes are the doings of fire elementals who, if disturbed, melt the ground about them and hurl it upward. They exist in small pockets. One may descend far past them without the temperature increasing. Traveling far enough, one comes to the center of the world, which is not molten—which contains the Machine, with great springs, as in a clock, and gears and pulleys and counterbalances. I know this to be true, for I have journeyed that way and been near to the Machine itself. Still, the daysiders have ways of demonstrating that their view is the correct one. I was almost convinced by the way one man explained it, though I knew better. How can this be?

“You were both correct,” said Morningstar. “It is the same thing that you both describe, although neither of you sees it as it really is. Each of you colors reality in keeping with your means of controlling it. For if it is uncontrollable, you fear it. Sometimes then, you color it incomprehensible. In your case, a machine; in theirs, a demon.”

“The stars I know to be the houses of spirits and deities—some friendly, some unfriendly and many not caring. All are near at hand and can be reached. They will respond when properly invoked. Yet the daysiders say that they are vast distances away and that there is no intelligence there. Again . . . ?”

“It is again but two ways of regarding reality, both of them correct.”

“If there can be two ways, may there not be a third? Or a fourth? Or as many as there are people, for that matter?”

“Yes,” said Morningstar.

For reasons required by the plot, Jack eventually travels to the center of the earth, there to smash the great Machine, which maintains the world as still; he thereby sets it to turning.

“Because of my actions, the world is beginning to rotate. There will no longer be a darkside and a lightside. Rather, there will be both darkness and light in succession in all portions of the world. The darkness, I feel, will always hold in some form the things we have held, and science will doubtless prevail in the light.”

This is our world.

In his final novel, A Farce To Be Reckoned With, written with Robert Sheckley, Zelazny reveals that the world’s winds are generated up in the far north, by an allegorical machine, manipulated by a couple of working stiffs, timid retired gods.

He came at last to the very northernmost point of north and found a tall, narrow mountain of ice. On the top of that mountain was a tower, so old that it might have been put there before anything else existed and the only place was here.

The tower was topped by a platform, and on it stood a gigantic naked man with tangled hair and an expression most uncanny. He was working a large leather bellows. As he drove it up and down, the wind blew from its mouth. It was the origin of all the wind in the world.

The wind emerg-ed from the bellows in a steady stream, and blew into and though the tubes of a peculiar-looking machine.

A strange crea-ture sat in front of what looked like an organ keyboard, and his hands, with their many flexible fingers that almost appeared to be tentacles, played on the keys and shaped and formed the winds that passed through them. It was an allegorical machine, such as religions produce when they are trying to explain how things work. It directed the shaped and conditioned winds produced by the bellows pumper to the window, where they began their journey south to all points of the globe.

Azzie looked around, but he saw no one but the man working the bellows and the other one, the operator of the wind machine. He said to them both, “My dear sirs, you are screwing things up in the portion of Earth where I reside, and I cannot permit it. I intend to do something about it unless you cease and desist upon the instant.”

The two creatures introduced themselves. They were incarnations of the god Baal. The one working the bellows was Baal-Hadad, the other was Baal-Quarnain, Canaanite deities who had been living quietly for some thousands of years, since the last of their worshipers had died. Zeus had enlisted them both into his service, saying there were none better for bringing up the sort of weather he was interested in, once the initial bag of breezes had been exhausted. Zeus himself was a weather god, but he was too busy nowadays for the tedious work of making weather.

The old Canaanite deities, despite their glossy black wavy hair, hooked noses, prominent eyes, and bold features, despite their swarthy skin and huge hands and feet, were timid deities. When Azzie told them he was angry, and ready to call down a lot of trouble on their heads, both were willing to desist.

“We can stop the wind,” said Baal-Hadad, “but the rain isn’t up to us. We have nothing to do with it. All we send out of here is pure wind.”

“Do you know who’s sending the rain?” Azzie asked.

They both shrugged.

I have always been fond of the title character in Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus, not so much because he was a rock-’em-sock-’em freedom fighter, but more because he blundered into such a thing trailing Eros, and because, like me, he didn’t know shit, but wanted to, and because he died about 2000 years before arrived something resembling the sort of world he wanted to see, which is what I figure will happen with me.

At one point, while Spartacus is reviewing his ignorance, his lover offers an alternate view of the source of the wind:

“I’m free. And what do I know? I don’t even know how to read. I know nothing. Nothing. And I want to know. I want to . . . I want to know.”

“Know what?”

“Everything. Why a star falls and a bird doesn’t. Where the sun goes at night. Why the moon changes shape. I want to know where the wind comes from.”

“The wind begins in a cave. Far to the north, a young god sleeps in that cave. He dreams of a girl, and he sighs. And the night wind stirs with his breath.”

I like that one. A lot.

The video below was placed on YouTube by a woman who writes: “My grandfather taught me how to listen to the wind when I was just a little girl. It’s the greatest gift anyone ever gave me and I will always love my grandfather for taking the time and for loving me.”


1 Response to “Thar She Blows”

  1. 1 bluenred September 26, 2010 at 10:38 am

    We know from popular song that it is folly to “try and catch the wind”; in Herodotus we learn that people who actually try to fight the wind can come to a Very Bad End:

    “The neighbours of the Nasamones are the Psylli—but they no longer exist. There is a story which I repeat as the Libyans tell it: that the south wind dried up the water in their storage tanks, so that they were left with none whatever, as their territory lies wholly within the Syrtis. Upon this they held a council, and having unanimously decided to declare war on the south wind, they marched out to the desert, where the wind blew and buried them in sand. The whole tribe was wiped out, and the Nasamones occupied their former domain.”

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When I Worked

September 2010
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