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Apr 28, 2016

Woodwind…

In this era of climate change, we tend to think of the wind solely as resource – just one type of renewable energy that must be harnessed if we are to succeed in transforming our fossil fuel dependent economies into something a little more benign.  As with every pragmatic, and technocentric approach to addressing the climate crisis, the natural processes of this planet have little to offer modern humans beyond their utilitarian value.  The wind, the source of myths and legends, the muse for countless artists, poets, musicians, and writers[1] is nothing more than a source of energy to be used to power an economic system that must grow, even if nature dies.

It is the notion of ‘harnessing’ or ‘capturing’ the energy of the wind that speaks volumes about the way we view the nonhuman world in this age of transcending natural limits.  The wind has no independent value or existence outside what we, the human race, determine for it.  It is there for us to exploit for our own selfish ends.  We are modern humans and, as such, we no longer worship the wind or its gods.  Aeolus, Amun, Boreas, Notus, Njord, Bieggolmai, Vayu all died long ago when our modern minds began to rationalise the wonders of a wholly animate world into a dead, clockwork world.

In the dominant culture – the one that is globalising norms about how we should see and hear the world – there is nothing sacred about the wind.  It is no longer storyteller with an independent existence.  There is no spirit that resides in the wind; we know why it blows and western science has little time for stories that involve ways of perceiving that defy the rational mind.  Science has rendered the nonhuman world dead and inert – it is there for us to use, and abuse, as we see fit.

The wind is so much more than a source of energy – the unremarkable result of differences in atmospheric pressure.  It is the teller of tales; the creator of new worlds; the bringer, and taker, of life; the cause of our greatest fears and anxieties; the soother of tired minds; the link between wakeful agitation and somnolent dreams.  The wind can expose our greatest vulnerabilities yet, at the same time, force us to find sanctuary in uncharted spaces, both inner and outer.  The wind is of the wild and, as such, connects us to that which is desperately in need of our love and respect – the nonhuman world.

On Eilean Shona, the wind is a wonderfully fickle component of the island’s ever changing beauty.  Even on those days when the forest glades are still, the wind still dances above the trees and caresses the lofty peaks, just enough to make its presence known.  It was on such a day that we were able to experience the sound of the wind  in the absence of any human generated noise – the anthrophony. Just below the highest point of the island, Beinn a’ Bhàillidh, is a larch forest and it was here that we rested on comfortable moss covered boulders and, actively listened.  The wind stirred the forest canopy whilst we sat in calm, stable air.  The separation between us, the subject, and the wind,  the object of our fascination, created space for reflection.

Our reflections were telling.  It took us some time to become one with the sound of the wind.  The unique structure of the larch tree, a deciduous conifer with many branches and, in this case, late fall needles and cones, creates a highly disturbed air flow which produces a sound that can be likened to ‘white noise.’  The many frequencies of white noise, with equal intensities, can have a powerful effect on the mind of the listener.  It can create space for thoughts to rise, flow, and disappear in a meditative series of peaks and troughs.  It was in this semi-meditative state that we both experienced the upwelling of memories from distant childhoods.  With little attachment we watched memories form, linger, and disappear.

These memories were of lazy days spent existing in wild spaces of limited spatial significance.  The beauty of being a child is that wilderness is rarely constrained spatially or temporally; children have limitless imaginations providing they have the chance to escape to an untended part of a garden, a small copse, or a derelict piece of land in a city.  The essence of what we were remembering was freedom – freedom to exist outside any system that required conformity, or adherence, to a set of beliefs.  The wind in the larch trees was taking us back to a time before worries descended as part of adult responsibility.

There is a message in the sound of the wind and, in this case, the sound of the wind through trees on Eilean Shona, that needs to be heeded.   The message is this.  The wind is free and, if listened to, can teach us how to be free – listening to the wind can help us levitate above the modern myths we live by  – the myths that tell us to live according to rules that have no place in the natural world.  The wind can teach us to meander; to flow; to move according to natural laws, not the arbitrary rules that are dictated to us by those in power.  The wind has an independent spirit and, like us, it needs to be allowed to roam, to dwell, to discover, to move at different speeds, to dissipate, and to have days of frenetic activity and long periods of rest.

In addition to messages of freedom, the wind reminds us of the interconnection between the animate and inanimate world, for all is part of the dance of life.  It is impossible to find the beginning and ending of wind for it is everywhere; like a god, it is omnipotent and omnipresent. The wind, like the mind, and the universe it creates, is a continuum – it is linked to everything and everything is linked to it.  Perhaps the most important message the wind can teach us is that in order to address the myriad environmental problems we face, the challenge is not to simply harness the energy of the wind, rather it is to view the wind as a metaphor for the future we have to create – a future where we recognise the connection, and intimacy, between everything on Earth, our only home.

With reverence to the wind – the free spirit, not the resource – we have created a piece of music based on the sound of wind recorded on Eilean Shona.

[1] Writer and storyteller Nick Hunt has spent the last few months walking the invisible pathways of Europe’s famous winds – from Cumbria’s Helm, which roars like a freight train over the Northern Pennines, to the fierce Bora of the Adriatic coast, the Foehn that spreads wildfires in the Alps, and France’s Mistral, the ‘idiot wind’, associated with everything from headaches and anxiety to madness. His book Where the Wild Winds Are: Walking Europe’s invisible map from Aeolus to Zephyrus will be published by Nicholas Brealey in 2017. www.nickhuntscrutiny.com

 

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