Sunday, November 16, 2008


"Those hot dry winds that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands' necks. Anything can happen."

Raymond Chandler, "Red Wind"

For four days now we here in Southern California have been dealing with these ninety degree Santa Ana winds, and let me tell you, hide the knives, my people. Not only are these winds wreaking havoc with the wildfires that are occurring all around us, causing death and destruction, they are basically scrambling our brains and re-wiring our collective nervous system. The ONLY good thing about these winds is that you can spend much less time on a hairdo, since you can blame a disheveled look on the wind and everyone will believe you.

Now since I hail from Kansas, not exactly a "no-wind" area, you would think that I could handle these Santa Anas, but in Kansas the winds are not nearly as bad. "Oh!" you say. "What about those tornadoes?" It's true, we do have winds associated with tornadoes, but when they do come in the form of a tornado, they come, they blow, they destroy (or not) and then they go. They don't hang around for days and days and days. Tornadoes are the visit from the out-of-town bad in-laws; Santa Anas are the in-town bad in-laws. Tornadoes are the hand slammed in the car door; Santa Anas are the leg ripped off by rabid dogs. Tornadoes are the twenty-four hour flu; Santa Anas are the flaming hemorrhoids.

When I was eight years old one of my favorite places to hang out on the farm was back of the chicken house. It was a low building that had a steep corrugated tin roof. The back area was the second stopping place for the cans and bottles from our household that would eventually make their way back to the dump by the creek. (Breathe deep, my environmentalist friends.) Since the wind and the rain had done their jobs, this plethora of cans and bottles was fairly clean. A brilliantly creative child, at one point I became consumed with digging through this mound and collecting different sized bottles and lining them up, creating families. The pickle jar father was sturdy and totally in love with the slender and lovely Wishbone salad dressing mother. The maraschino cherry bottle baby sat beside her older brother the mayonnaise jar. Grandfather Peanut Butter and the Grandmother Jelly came to visit quite often, and they would bring lanky, but socially awkward Cousin Catsup. Soon there was a neighborhood forming and it was a happy day for all when the family with the Campbell tomato soup triplets moved in. Even Uncle Butternut Coffee (nicknamed "Rusty" for his appearance) was happy there beside the Hormel brothers. Once the neighborhood was in shape, I began to scout for boxes. I had big plans for Main Street.

It was on a windy day when I went out back of the chicken house to begin construction on the neighborhood school which Mrs. Butterworth was going to take charge of. (OK, OK, I admit it, I had used extra syrup on the pancakes for days, just so I could justify bring in Mrs. Butterworth from the house to be the teacher.) I fought the steady wind all the way to the chicken house, and found my neighborhood intact. In fact, in back of the chicken house turned out to be the perfect place to hide out from the wind that was whipping over the fields.

Since Mrs. Butterworth was eager to get started and meet all the kids, I set about the work at hand, finding the perfect orange juice can to be an orphan who would happily live at the school and help the other children as they studied her message to "concentrate" written across her side. The wind howling around the corners of the building was a familiar sound, but I heard an additional sound that day, a slight scratching noise every so often. I tried to ignore it, but I kept hearing it--sometimes a short peep-like "stritch," sometimes a longer "striiiiiittttcccchh." I tried to place the sound. It was coming from above me, so I went investigate. I went far enough back until I saw them: three dead chickens in various states of decomposition on the slanted roof, one about three feet from the edge of the roof above where I was building. Apparently, my father had flung them up there to avoid attracting coyotes.

Well, what would you have done? I set back to my work temporarily, trying to ignore the danger from above, but it was not the same. I heard the scratching sound, the yellow talons on the corrugated roof. The absolute horror of even the possibility a half-decomposed chicken falling upon me caused a knot in my stomach and the feeling of apprehension overwhelmed me. I was jittery and tense. I abandoned my project. There would be no school, no park, no church and hence, even though they were perfect for one another, no wedding for the earnest Mr. Pork and Beans and delicate Miss Vienna Sausage.

Decades later, these current winds blow around me and I see how they make us all edgy and nervous. The wind stirs up things, pushes us around. We hear the scritching of the waxy yellow talons on the roof above us. The metaphorical chickens in our lives are up there and we know it. After the winds go away, we will breathe easier and get back to our normal routines. Then, one day, out of the blue, the winds of nervous anticipation come whipping up unexpectedly in our lives. We hear about the company lay-offs. We get that call that a parent is in the hospital. We hear that tone in the voice of a friend. We all walk a little hunched over then, anticipating nervously. Waiting, waiting, we pray that the winds are gentle and that this time the chickens do not fall.

1 comment:

Happy Homemaker said...

Awwww...this is so sweet! Can you imagine giving our kids some of the stuff from our recycling cans, and telling them to go outside and have some fun? Oh, the good 'ole days. By the way, was I the friend you were referring to? I hope there were others who cringed at the thought of that stuff floating down the river. Yikes!