As I write this it is a beautiful, sunny (if cold), calm day out here on the Prairie. As I sit and write this in my old wingback recliner, looking out the window past the frost on the old panes of glass, it seems an almost idyllic winter day.
This was not true on Valentine’s Day.
One of the things that people may not realize if they’ve not spent time on the open prairie is the effect of the wind. Oh, people are aware of the existence of tornados - The Wizard of Oz (1) is still pervasive enough in our culture to see to that. Tornados, such as they are, are comparatively rare and generally localized phenomena.
The wind, on the other hand, is a near constant on the prairie.
In particular, from Autumn through Spring, the number of windy days far outstrips the number of calm. The average wind speed in our area between December and February is about 8.5 miles per hour. This may not seem like much, but that average is a collection of highly variable days, and amplified by the fact that, on the open prairie, there is often next to nothing to block the wind - it’s very different than a windy day in town. Our dogs sometimes spend virtually their entire day on one side of the house just to stay in the lee it offers.
February 14th, 2015 was special. For Valentine’s Day we were given the gift of prevailing winds gusting between 20 and 30 mph. Things get interesting when it is that windy for an extended period of time. You hear the house making noises you’ve never noticed before (2), and you begin to seek out portions of the building that are opposite the bluster, because the heat simply cannot keep up with the draft in this old house. There were moments, as I sat working at my desk, when I suddenly realized that I could not see anything out the window beyond the border of the yard for all of the snow picked up by the wind.
Later you go out and pick up the pieces. Literally - it’s necessary to go out and see what has blown over and/or has started to blow away. Often our bird feeders are victims of the wind - the gusts catch them and get them to spin so that they eventually unwind and come off their hooks. I tend to buy heavier feeders so they don’t travel so far once they fall - otherwise I will sometimes find them out in the field… or find them not at all.
It was, in fact, windy enough yesterday to actually blow over the steel doors that I had set against the house in preparation for installing them on our outside basement steps.
I realize as I look back over this that it may seem like I’m complaining about the wind. This is not the case. I grew up out here, and I was well aware of this phenomenon - had not forgotten it - before I moved back. It is a part of life out here, but one that I don’t think often gets related in literature or entertainment set in the rural Midwest. Wind gets used for dramatic effect, to be certain, but the reality is that it is really just a part of the every day. Many of the older properties in the area have the remnants of tree lines planted as wind breaks, and, in fact, looking at old pictures of our place often finds large portions of the home obscured by the pine trees planted for that very reason. Our ancestors knew about it, and accommodated to it accordingly.
Probably I should be thinking about planting some trees myself.
1 - Just for the record, I do not love this movie. Yes - it was an event when I was growing up, showing up on the TV once a year. My mother was always thrilled to see it. Popcorn was popped, excitement was felt by all… Except me. When I was little the movie terrified me. And no, it wasn’t the flying monkeys (which everyone assumes). I never got to the flying monkeys. It was that creepy Wicked Witch. Of course, I’m a grown-up now, and now I’ve seen the entire movie all the way through. On DVD. It may have been great production for its era, but now all I see is actors walking through painted sets (you can see their shadows on the backdrop), and what appears to be a steel cable holding up the lion’s tail. But perhaps I digress…
2 - MLW, who has excellent hearing, actually picked up a shift in sound that turned out to be one of the old windows failing in a room that we don’t actively use. The wood at the bottom of the top sash of the window had started to separate, and the pane had dropped down, leaving a quarter-inch space open to the out of doors.