Sunday, April 3, 2011

Bending Before the Wind

or Flexibility

Some of the noises have been truly startling—the thuds and thunks and clanks as patio furniture, garbage cans, and who knows what else have tipped over and gone flying.  The morning started out clear and still, but the forecast 60 mile per hour winds arrived at about noon.  When I sat down to lunch I could see the Sandia Mountains 10 miles away; by the time I'd finished eating, they were hidden by blowing dust, and they haven't re-emerged since.

This morning's sunrise—you can see the Sandias between the houses.
Fortunately, these winds were forecast, and many of us planned our weekends and battened down the hatches accordingly (Thunk!), with varying degrees of success.  Now, curled up on the bench in the kitchen, I'm enjoying the sight of the wind in action.  Through the window, I can see the sand cherries as their remaining petals go flying (I will be surprised if they stop this side of Wisconsin).  Watching the branches is like watching a fire—sinuous, supple, always moving, always different, always the same; it's completely mesmerizing.  The cherries' leaves are too young yet to have much character, but in summer their dark green will have a metallic sheen, and in motion they will look like flickering lights.  They show to advantage in the wind.

No mountains—even the sky is gray with dust.
Through the glass kitchen door, on the other hand, I can see the boxwood bushes.  Their leaves are shiny, and they gleam with every movement, but the movements themselves are stiff, almost arthritic.  (I think about Monday mornings and sympathize.)  The bushes are too sturdy to suffer in this wind, but they don't bend naturally before it.  In their stiffness, they look awkward—the only condition in which I've known them to do so.  From an odd sense of courtesy, I leave them in privacy and turn back to the sand cherries.

A photo experiment that didn't work, but it sure was windy.
Watching that hypnotic, liquid motion, I find myself envisioning a wind garden.  If I had the space to do it justice, I would put in a garden with plants that can not only hold up to the wind but that would look spectacular in it, that would make a windstorm a thing not only of power but also of beauty.  Against that irresistible force I would pose a few immovable objects—some agave and prickly pear, perhaps—for ballast.  The rest of the garden would feature plants that have turned bending into an art form, all of them airy plants to begin with:  Western sand cherries, of course; desert willows, with their curving, ripply branches and long, slender leaves; chamisa, or rabbit brush, its clouds of sulphury blossoms billowing over feathers of sage-green; the flowers of gaura, blue flax, and angelita daisies, dancing on long, wiry stems; undulating tufts of Indian rice grass, the seeds sparkling like whitecaps in the sunshine; Mormon tea, its upright, bare stems quivering like Aeolian harp strings; and Apache plume, its seed-heads charmingly wind-blown even when the wind isn't blowing.  (If water were sufficient in this fantasy garden, which it very well might be, I would add the Rio Grande cottonwood, for the delightful clatter and inimitable twinkle of its leaves in motion.)

All of these plants are able to yield while maintaining their individuality; they don't struggle with the wind or resist it, and yet their own strengths and quirks and characteristics still shine through.  They yield with such grace, and yet they yield nothing of themselves.  They are not flattened, like the plants with insufficient strength, or shredded, like the tender, broad-leaved aliens, or broken, like the brittle ornamentals.  They have not simply hunkered down to endure a bad situation, like the sturdy boxwoods.  They have adapted; flexibility is in their nature.  The wind moves through them rather than against them. 

Paradoxically, it is because they yield to the wind that they can also hold their own with it.


  1. Several years ago, when a mild hurricane came through, we positioned the chairs in our sunroom so that we could sit and "watch the show", hoping of course that the wind didn't include a tornado that would snap off the pines and send them hurtling through the roof. We can take lessons from these flexible plants. It reminds me of one of the lessons of childbirth - breathe with the pain, relax when it comes, and it hurts much less.

  2. More of us around here could learn to plant things that are well suited to our city's weather (wind and the rest). Yesterday I saw a very large tree that the wind had uprooted from Los Altos park and blown into traffic on Eubank.

  3. Ginny--it sounds like a wonderful show (assuming the sunroom stayed intact!)--those "force of nature" experiences are so awe-inspiring. I've come across several people lately who have talked about "letting go" into something difficult. I haven't had children, but the approach of relaxing into a painful experience sounds very much like what you describe.

    Mud--Wow. It's amazing no one was hurt. I love what the Journal said this morning (quoting the Nat'l Weather Service)--"It has been a dynamic yet dreadful day across the Land of Enchantment..."

  4. That sunrise was so gorgeous, Suz--one of those where you rush outside in your pajamas quick, so you don't miss a minute.