Following are excerpts from the unpublished manuscript of the book, WINDS ALOFT: A CELEBRATION OF OUTER AND INNER WEATHER, by Robert L. Eklund. All poems and other text are copyright © 2007 by Robert L. Eklund.
I. High Sky: October
High sky that holds the glow of summer still!
Too early, now—
Too early for the heavy autumn haze,
Yet swept across by some great sigh of wind
And tinseled over with an icy cloud
That dims this heat but casts no shadow yet.
II. Lowering Sky: November
Gulls grouping inland as the sky turns white;
Taste of the year’s dust still in the mouth;
Old leaves jingle, and the wind backs south—
A damp wind puffing out the day’s last light.
III. Wet Sky: December
Watch how the sea-swells lean forward and glisten
Green through their grey-cast and rain-speckled skin;
Stay by me all the long evening, and listen—
Homeward the hard-driving rain hastens in.
HALCYON DAYS — In Southern California, we think of winter as the rainy season. Yet December often has several weeks of very dry, calm weather before the storms arrive. The ancient Greeks, who lived in a Mediterranean climate much like our own, referred to this period near the Winter Solstice as the “Halcyon Days,” named after a mythical bird, the halcyon, which was supposed to nest on the sea at this time and have a calming effect on the weather. In California, dry air, streaming down out of the northeast from cold, high-pressure areas in the mountains and high deserts, warms as it descends and tends to keep the weather crisp and sunny through Christmas and usually through the Rose Parade on New Year’s Day. This offshore airflow causes clothes fresh from the dryer to crackle and spark, one’s skin to itch, and the dry skies to become almost surreally bright.
NORTH BY NORTHWEST
North by northwest, a
Contrail etches its white scratch
On the pane of sky.
Muscles stretch, eyes itch
To see further through this clean
Lens of winter air.
Small birds test each high
Limb of the gold cottonwood
Before flying on.
HOW MANY KINDS OF MAY? — When May arrives in Southern California, a distinct change comes over the weather. Past are April’s turbulent brief storms and showers, alternating with warm spring Santa Ana winds. Beginning in May and continuing on through June, kind of tranquil, misty coolness sets in. Over the coastal plain, low clouds and fogs are the rule—the “marine layer” that dominates much of Los Angeles’ spring and summer weather, and also gives rise to that city’s famous smog.
Go a bit farther inland, though, and the weather changes dramatically. The desert heat is waking up, its air density lowering—sucking the heavier coastal air eastward through low passes with howling winds and dust storms. The contrast between coastal and inland California was never so great.
Go yet farther east, and the picture shifts again, revealing countless new moods as summer begins to organize itself across the continent. I remember one cross-country flight in May, above and beneath clouds in airplanes of all sizes: seeing the Ohio and Pennsylvania countryside coming alive with spring green, watching a hawk circling under our plane as we flew low over Appalachian woods, enjoying the clean dry newness of Albuquerque and flying off into the rain-streamers of a New Mexico afternoon thundershower. And always a strange sense of playing tricks with time. Moving so fast! I longed to get down to earth, slow down, and follow a snail down a garden path for a while.
A cool change, hiding
Under the west edge of Earth,
Pokes out a tendril.
Through strange cloudy shapes
We race sunward, playing with
With new ideas,
Fretfulness turns into joy—
The rest forgotten.
IN JULY AND AUGUST, A MONSOON FLOW of moist warm air from the southeast brings thunderstorms into the San Jacinto and San Bernardino mountains south and east of Los Angeles. Occasionally the air currents bringing this air from the Gulf of Mexico become especially strong and spill down into the Los Angeles basin—overcoming the prevailing westerly winds from the Pacific, evolving into awesome cells of cumulonimbus cloud, and dropping unexpected warm showers on city-dwellers. On those rare days and nights, we Angelinos may experience an afternoon rainbow’s beauty or the excitement of lightning on a dark night.
Compact disc’s rainbow
Was that real lightning
Far to the southeast, or just
A flash of insight?
Thoughts evolving toward
Endless forms more beautiful
Inward and outward.
AS PLANET EARTH ROLLS INTO AUGUST, people who can do so go on vacations. Those of us who must stay behind think restless vacation thoughts, as the oppressive humidity spreads in from the southeast and we wait with waning patience for the cool southwest sea breezes to return…
ON A ROLL
Turning toward evening,
Pushed east by a fresh sea breeze:
Hot three o-clock world.
THOUGHTS NEAR LAX
Steady as we go…
These jet planes and I, feeling
Wind beneath our wings.
Rolling toward midnight,
We all plunge toward unknown space—
Each with his own thoughts.
SITTING AT THE COUNTER one day at a restaurant in Marina del Rey, I was going over a manuscript of this book—and had come to the last page, as yet unwritten. As I moved the paper, I was startled to see a whole spectrum of rainbow colors splash across the white page. Then I saw what was happening. The low sun was shining on the cut-glass edges of the restaurant’s window, at just the right angle to project a complete solar spectrum onto the page. “The colors of God, or what?” I thought, as I left the restaurant, just a bit more inspired to finish the book.
At the book’s ending,
A page not yet written on—
A rainbow on it.
WORDS WITH WINGS