Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Nilch'i: Holy Wind

Nilch'i refers to the air and the atmosphere, both still and in motion. It is associated with breath, speech, thought, and the power of motion. In addition, it is the means of communication among all elements of the living world. In Navajo emergence and creation accounts, Nilch'i appears as the source of life.”
Lynch, P.A., Native American Mythology A to Z
After the rain, the wind. From the west, the spent ends of an Atlantic hurricane bring us gusts of spiralling leaves; the trees are stripped in a premature spring, the lanes scattered with boughs and leaves. Still in full leaf, the big trees are like ocean clippers in full sail; they offer a huge broadside to the gusts, they roar and scream in protest. I turn my face into it, take great lungfuls of the dense, solid stuff, and try to feel the untouchable substance of the wind; it is strong and yet is does not exist. It is nothing, moving. Trying to write about the wind is like trying to feel it; it slips through your fingers, it is unmemorable apart from those very moments when you are faced with its oppressive power.
In the early morning, a sparrowhawk ghosted down into our garden, exhausted and wind-blown. It paused for several minutes on the grass, alert and yet immobile; its face a startled mask of intensity. A kick, and it was gone. 
As I travel out of the village, I notice other birds stay low or careen dizzily across the land; goldfinches explode from the hedgerow and slip sideways away from the chaotic gusts which play in their ruffled feathers. Jackdaws spiral around their ash trees, cawing in bewilderment.
Many years ago, I crewed a small boat across the Irish Sea. My memory of that night crossing is of the wind; the roaring and shrieking in the shrouds, the way we reefed the sails to a shred of cloth tugged from the mast, the storm jib flogging in complaint. When we reached the coast of Ireland, the wind had dropped, but we felt and heard its insistent howl for hours later.
That same sound accompanies me tonight as I walk up the lane in the last of the evening's gathering gloom; the roaring in the trees fills my ears and my mind with its persistent hushing. On the brow of the hill, wind-pruned hawthorns hunker into the wind, flexing their gnarled trunks against another meaningless gust, their limbs inured to the pull of winter's gales. Grey-blue clouds billow across the darkening landscape. A scatter of crab apples amongst the fallen leaves seem like a gift of autumn, an offering from the wind gods.

By tomorrow, the gales will have passed, in that mysterious way in which our own personal storms pass through our lives; unbidden, traumatic, cathartic. We are left reeling and unsteady, our limbs remembering the pull of the wind, our lungs gasping in the pungent density of still air.

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