I kiss J and a shock of static electricity sparks between our chapped lips.
It is soundless where we sit outside on the patio in the late afternoon, quiet as Ash Wednesday. A blisteringly blue glints overhead. Faintly at first, the fall decoration cornstalks begin to rustle. Sh-sh-sha-shhh-shhhhhh.
In the distance, I hear an approaching whisper as if ten thousand petticoat ladies in satin dresses swish toward us. One lone leaf at the penthouse level of the backyard sycamore begins to shimmy. Then another and another and another. In a single elongated moment, the world changes from crackling stillness to a-roaring and a-bending. The Santa Ana winds bellow upon us. The only scent is fear of fire.
I’ve lived in California my whole life, but it wasn’t until I built a hilltop house in Trabuco Canyon, at the mouth of Santiago Peak, that the Santa Ana’s full fury bent me in awe. In one single night, a teak dining table and a ping-pong table slammed against the house walls, narrowly missing sliding glass doors. Reckless gusts flipped chairs off rockers, clattering seats like bones in darkness against rumbling tempered glass. A metal gazing ball tumbled from its garden perch and rolled down the hill, lost forever, a bowling ball flung down the canyon alley.
I stood outside in the midnight din, away from the house and trees, beneath stars so plentiful and clear they seemed an arms reach away. Parched lips stuck on teeth, I smiled and watched eucalyptus bow and dance as if directed by a drunken puppeteer. Leaves eddied in dervishes about my shins, swirled above my shoulders and neck. I shrieked until my voice dissolved into the howl. I stayed outside until dawn, eyes closed against the blow, arms held to the sky just to feel nature’s unbridled power.
Wind is so very much like love. You can feel it, watch its path and effect. But you can’t draw a picture of it, nor capture it with a photograph. It exists only in the rapture of what stands in its way. When it calms once again, ordinary gifts lie scattered in its wake.
How better to spend one night than to stand in wind’s way?
How better to spend one life than to stand in love’s way?
p.s. One of the most legendary literary descriptions of the Santa Ana winds is found in Raymond Chandler‘s short story, “Red Wind.” This post’s title comes from a line in that story:
There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas 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 husband’s necks. Anything can happen.
For a cool scientific explanation of the winds with illustrations, check out “What causes Santa Ana winds” by Paul Duginski.
A shorter version of this post first appeared in The Bucket List issue of Orange Coast magazine. If you live anywhere near Orange County, California and want to include a wild night in the wind on your own bucket list, here are a few prime spots to experience Late Night Theatre of the Wind.
Most raw: Drive to the mouth of Holy Jim Trail just off Trabuco Canyon, a major wind thoroughfare. Unless there’s severe fire danger, travel the 4.5 miles into the canyon on a rutted and rocky dirt road. Face the canyon and roar back. For information, click here.
Tamer: Hunker down – for a day or night – along Trabuco Creek in O’Neill Regional Park. Arroyo Campground sites 31-78 offer the best views of the pristine night sky and the wind wails down the creek bed.
Downright Civilized: Share a margarita, and swap wind and fire stories with long time canyon residents from inside while staring out through the wall of windows at Rose Canyon Cantina & Grill.