The wind is up again, driving the snow flurries sideways. It has pushed a steady bank of snow clouds across the Absarokas, and the Ramshorn peak up the valley has vanished again.
The trucks struggle even harder up the hill. Birds flap valiantly to stay on course, and soon drop out of sight to rest somewhere. The shingles on our roof rattle, and some of them fall.
It creates remarkable drifts in the snow, so deep that our dog may almost lose himself briefly while trying to run across an open field.
Full disclosure: Of course we have winds here. They did call it the Wind River Valley for a reason.
Here’s a local version of a verse from a popular folk song:
From this valley they say you are going.
Please do say it’s not something I said
But the fact that it never stops blowing
And you can’t keep your hat on your head.
Like much doggerel, those words are somewhat in jest. These are not the unceasing winds of the dust bowl.
About 15 years before that infamous dust bowl of the 1930s, in his novel The Prairie Wife, Arthur Stringer described the prairie wind like this:
“Oh, such a wind! It made a whining and wailing noise, with each note higher, and when you felt that it couldn’t possibly increase, that it simply must ease off or the whole world would go smash, why that whining note merely grew tenser and the wind grew stronger. How it lashed things! How it shook and flailed and trampled this poor old earth of ours!”
It usually isn’t like that here. In the Wind River Valley, much of the time there is almost no wind at all. We know to expect it around 11 am if it’s going to blow up, and we know that it usually dies down in the evening (if not sooner).
Like the bears in summer, the wind in winter is a factor in where I choose to hike. I know there’s much less wind in the tree-sheltered back roads along the river across the highway than on the high flats of the scenic overlook in town.
Writing in 2001 in the Great Plains Quarterly, cultural geographer Cary DeWit described his field studies of modern women living on the high plains of Kansas and Colorado. The wind bothered many of them a great deal, he reported, and much more than it seemed to trouble the men (unless it hindered their ability to deal with crops or the stock).
“I always hated the wind,” said one woman. “I like to say it blows cobwebs around in my mind.”
“I don’t like the wind,” another told him. “It doesn’t just mess up your hair; you have to hang on to your car door. It makes me grumpy and makes me angry.”
One of the first comments I ever received to an entry in Living Dubois also mentioned the wind, as one factor that drove its author (a woman) away from town. “I raved like this for my first three or four years in Dubois, until what you call a steady breeze nearly drove me out of my mind.”
As for me, in a way I enjoy the wind (which I can hear even as I write). I’ve lasted nearly 10 years now, and it still hasn’t blown me away. Far from it.
The wind isn’t always pleasant, no more so than any other potentially dangerous and adverse weather phenomenon. You have to treat it with respect, for sure.
I’m glad very glad that our chinking is sound and that I don’t have to sleep outdoors in a tent during this wind. It worries me greatly when there are forest fires nearby.
We often choose to avoid driving northbound between I-80 and Lander, because out there on the sage flats the wind is often so strong and incessant that your hands eventually cramp holding the steering wheel.
But here in Dubois, especially in mild weather, I actually find the periods of wind a little exhilarating, as I might if I were on a sailboat in a sheltered bay somewhere.
Here’s what I feel about it: The wind will always bring something new from the horizon. It drove these clouds in, and it will drive them away, sooner or later. Then it will surely blow away itself.
@ Lois Wingerson, 2016
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