One of my favorite sounds in East Texas is the rustle, whisper, and susurrus [what a word!] of winter’s wind through the pine needles far above my head. Every year I am surprised to hear it even though I’ve been looking forward to it for months. Just last week, while walking to the barn, I passed a pine bending slightly in the north wind. A deep pleasure covered me as I heard this favorite sound. It is peaceful yet promises more to come—more cold, more wind, more difficulty. Yet now, and for several more weeks, it is a comfort rather than a portent.
This very sound also transports me back to my youth and my visits to my grandparents. In particular, there was a giant, old pine near my grandfather’s hay barn in the meadows and forests north of Nacogdoches. Daddy Jack called it a “bull pine” since it was responsible for populating the surrounding acres with its progeny. We’d love to play in the hay barn, arranging and rearranging the hay bales (and ruining a few) in a child’s endless quest for fun. And when we quieted down, and lay high among the hay bales, we’d listen to the wind rush through his bull pine. That sound evokes memories of childhood, of play, of comfort, and—of course—of him.
But that same rushing wind can be heard in my granddad’s milk barn, now collapsing from long disuse. It’s filled with junk and broken milking equipment now. The sounds of lowing cows coming in to be milked and the smell of hay and fresh milk are long gone. This same winter wind can be disquieting, disruptive, worrisome, and lonesome. Then, it reminds us of failures, of loss, of disappointments, of past injuries, of missed opportunities for forgiveness and healing, and of almost-forgotten memories of love and pleasure.
I don’t know of anyone who has captures this complexity of the wind better than Christopher Wiman—a very fine poet. In fact, he’d be a fine poet if he had written only this single poem, “Small prayer in a hard wind”:
As through a long-abandoned half-standing house
only someone lost could find,
which, with its paneless windows and sagging crossbeams,
its hundred crevices in which a hundred creatures hoard and nest,
seems both ghost of the life that happened there
and living spirit of this wasted place,
wind seeks and sings every wound in the wood
that is open enough to receive it,
shatter me God into my thousand sounds . . .
The wind of my memory and my experience is like this. A wind that “seeks and sings every wound in the wood that is open enough to receive it”—every wound in my soul. It may be a hard wind, a wind that seems to blow me off course, a wind of heartache, a wind of love. May God bring these things to me…please.