The wind wants nothing. This thing made by hot meeting cold and the earth spinning around, this moving air, is full of power and without desire. It is disappearing every moment and replacing itself. It seems to come from every direction and from nowhere. I want to stop it long enough to write it down.
This wind has made the winter bitter. It is a winter that only briefly lets you out of the house. The house, almost abandoned in the summer for the porch and the garden and the beach, is now the beginning and the end, a haven and a cage, all there is to life. The house is the only ship we have to sail across this Lake Superior winter. Inside I sit at the old oak table we bid $50 for at a summertime auction, writing in bad light, wrapped up in a wool blanket, cold on the left side and warm on the right. When I look out the picture window I see again, still, nothing but snow in the wind.
The snow rushes up the street in flurried gusts, acting as if it had somewhere important to go and was late getting there. It gives me the harrowed feeling of crowds pushing off the subway and swarming up the stairways to busy streets, hurrying to get to work on time. But it is only going to the drift at the base of the hill, until another gust carries it up and over the top. The wind worries the snow like a dog with a small, broken-necked animal in its mouth; it shakes the snow and will not let it alone.
The storm never sleeps. How many feet of snow have fallen, how many miles of wind have blown over the lake? How many hours have I listened to the wind whistling down the chimney? I begin to understand how an immigrant on an endless, arduous ocean journey from her old world to an unknown new one might have felt. I am marooned on a boat rocking in crashing waves, on a sea that looks the same in every direction. And what direction is there? I am surrounded by a tempest of white; snow on the ground, snow in the air, the view across the bay obscured by curtains of snow, and every day on the radio a prediction of “snow, blowing snow, and drifting snow.” Are they serious, or is this simply dry, northern humor? Everyone can see that it’s still snowing.
The snow rushes up the street in flurried gusts, acting as if it had somewhere important to go and was late getting there.
The streetlight a block away is only a dim blob of yellow. It could be the sun, shrunken and cold, for all I know. There is not a house, a human, a tree, or bush, or creature anywhere in the world. Or so you could think. In fact, there are houses close by on either side of this one, lost in their own private oceans of snow, blowing snow, and drifting snow. The wind has continued strong for weeks, and how can it? Where does it find its strength? I cannot look at the wind, but see it working; cannot touch it, but always feel it; can’t grab or push or pull it, yet am inevitably propelled by its force. I would like to have that impressive power for myself, but it is not within my reach.
A week ago Sunday the sun shone, the wind died down, and I rushed outside to breathe, to take my snowshoes into the woods and look at rabbit tracks, to make avalanches out of trees with drifts of snow perched on their branches. The sun has not looked at us since then. Tonight, for the first time since the storm began I could see the moon. It hung low and full out over the bay, a summertime moon, dim behind the thick falling snow. It was like seeing the sun shine during a rainstorm, an unexpected pleasure.
I wonder how it is out on the point, across the bay I cannot see. Rounding the corner to the point you enter a fiercer world, a world on the big lake, unprotected by any sheltering arm of land, undaunted by the large, quiet bay, the Grand Marais. In that world the wind has no second thought about lifting you off your feet and setting you down wherever it pleases, if you are foolish enough to tempt it. And the wind, when it is blowing down trees and lifting up roofs, can brush children off the land’s shoulders in the lake, and not care at all.
While all the people in this tiny town stood and watched, and hoped, and waited, they knew that despite the boats, the searchers, the helicopter with its spotlight against the dark, the lake would not give these children back. It would not return these sons to their mother, would not allow us to rewind the tape and stop them from being fearless, reckless, life-filled boys daring the lake during a September storm. The night they died we could only lie in the dark and listen to the house cry in the wind for those boys, lost to the indifferent power of air and water.
But away from the memory of that day, I sit here at my table, surrounded by wind and snow and bitter cold, a virtual IMAX of arctic breezes, and I know that I cannot stop the wind.
This excerpt from Ellen Airgood’s essay “Winter Wind” is reprinted with permission of the author. It appears in the anthology, “Here: Women Writing on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula,” published by Michigan State University Press.
Ellen Airgood is the author of three novels including “South of Superior.” She lives in Grand Marais in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where she and her husband own and operate a popular diner. She credits that experience for her success as a writer.