The Wind and Trees

Being invisible, the wind is easily forgotten.  Until it begins to really blow.  I don’t know about where you are, but this past week was a very windy one around here.  Thursday especially.  My office has a couple of windows and each view shows different kinds of trees.  The south window reveals only a stolid oak or maple in a neighboring back yard a few doors down.  I don’t know this neighbor and I’ve never been close enough to get a good look at his deciduous tree.  Its leaves are down, of course, and although its branches moved in Thursday’s gusts there was never really a question of it coming down.  Trunk stout and sturdy, it has stood through many windstorms and will likely see many more.

My west window opens to some lofty pines across the street.  At least sixty feet tall, their trunks, like many coniferous species, stand fairly straight.  The way these trees bent in the wind worried me as a home owner.  And as a human being.  You see, I have done some woodwork.  A guy with as many books as we have either runs himself broke on buying bookshelves or learns to make his own.  I’ve spent plenty of my money on one-inch pine boards—the standard shelving material.  The 1 x 10, which is really 3/4 of an inch by 9 and 3/4, is the usual bookshelf board.  Not even an inch thick, it isn’t easily bent.  Incorporated into the trunk of a tree, it’s absolutely immobile if I press against it.  I’ve tried to move a mature tree trunk.  Even a good-size branch.  Mere humans can’t.  And yet I see these very same trunks swaying like they’re waltzing with the wind.

No wonder the weather has always been associated with the gods.  I mean, on Thursday last I saw these giants in the earth bending in arborescent obeisance.  The wind is easily forgotten.  As I worked on Weathering the Psalms, I easily sketched out the chapters on rain, lightning, and even snow.  But wind.  If you exegete a storm often the most damaging aspect is the wind.  Hurricanes and tornadoes damage due to their great wind velocity (the former also from impressive rain dumps).  What we call EF5 (or F5) tornadoes are so violent that any instrument directly in their path can’t survive its onslaught.  Winds swirling over 300 miles per hour are pretty much incomprehensible.  And yet when they dissipate, those violent winds are once again invisible.  Isn’t that just like the gods?

Weathering the Sun

I may have given up on Weathering the Psalms a bit prematurely.  Those who know me know that the weather impacts my mood.  Now that I have a yard to mow that feeling has grown exponentially since perpetually wet grass is happy grass and is impossible to cut with a reel mower.  Today, while those of pagan inclinations celebrate the sun, there’s more rain in the forecast.  As there has been since Sunday.  If Yahweh’s the God of the sun, then Baal’s had the upper hand for some time now.  As an article on Gizmodo has pointed out, this has been the rainiest twelve months on record for the United States.  And we’re largely to blame.  We’ve known we’ve been warming the globe since the 1980s, at least.  Yet we do nothing about it.  You can’t stop the rain. 

Our species occupies that odd role of predator and prey.  Most predators, actually, are prey to somebody else.  Not being nocturnal by nature, we fear the dark when we feel more like prey.  Since we’re visually oriented, we crave the light.  Today, when the conditions are right, we have it abundantly.  Ironically, of the seasonal celebrations, the summer solstice is the only one with no notable holidays.  Easter and a host of May Day-like holidays welcome spring and Halloween and Thanksgiving settle us into fall.  December holidays around the other solstice are the most intense, but summer, with its abundant light and warmth, is perhaps celebration enough.  Or maybe we know that marking the longest day is a transition point, since now we’ve reached a natural turning point.

So, it’s the solstice.  From here on out the days start getting shorter and we slowly move toward the time of year when horror becomes fashionable again.  The light that we crave now ebbs slowly to the dark we fear.  There should be a holiday around here somewhere, for those of us outside academia continuing working right on through.  The problem is western religions, especially Christianity, place no especially memorable events here.  Resurrection’s a hard act to follow.  Calendars, apart from telling us when to plant and harvest, are primarily religious tools in origin.  When things are their darkest, six months from now, the church moved the likely spring birthday of Jesus to counteract pagan festivals encouraging the return of the light.  I, for one, would like to see a day to commemorate it, even if it’s raining again.

Weather the Psalms

Among the academic detritus cluttering my desktop is a book I wrote while employed at Nashotah House. Not being a native Midwesterner and finding myself where severe thunderstorms are a blasé fact of life for much of the year, I was captivated by and terrified of the weather. At the same time, daily recitation of the Psalms was a major part of our required, twice daily worship. With the thunder louder than I could ever imagine it outside, we’d calmly read the Psalms, at our stately pace, confident that he who rides upon the clouds could protect us, his humble servants. After many years of recitatio continua I noticed the plenitudinous mentions of the weather in the Psalms. After a painstaking five years of reading and rereading the entire Psalter, I had translated every verse with a weather reference and had written commentary on them.

Publishers showed no interest, this despite the enormous success of Sebastian Junger’s The Perfect Storm, and Erik Larson’s Isaac’s Storm (both of which I eagerly read) and the recent release of Twister. One publisher deigned to make comments as to the great problems of my thesis, so I sat down to revise this behemoth of a book. The very day I was called into the Dean’s office and fired was the last time I looked at the material. I had been revising the book that very morning. The one sad aspect of this entire episode is that every colleague to whom I mentioned the book was excited to read it when it came out. There was a real interest, but no publisher willing to take on the project, this side of vanity publishing.

Some days I think I may go back to that dead beast of a project and try to resurrect it. My academic publishing has slowed to a tortoisene pace without full-time institution support or interest (independent scholars are not worth investing in, I have learned), especially under the weight of teaching nearly a dozen classes a year. Nevertheless, the idea seems sound to me. I keep a weather-eye on the academic horizon and I have yet to spot a book like mine anywhere within the publication catalogues. Considering the importance of storm gods in the ancient world, perhaps we’ve simply moved beyond this interest, tucked away in our interior settings. Nevertheless, when a rare thunderstorm comes to New Jersey, I still remember the majesty of the weather and a forgotten book on the Psalms.

Even the NWS recognizes Noah