While out for a mid-day walk in the biting January cold, I turned the collar of my coat up against the windy gusts that ripped the surface of the river, tore at the branches of the trees and sent dry leaves spinning upwards like whirling dervishes.
Standing on the concrete jetty behind the old mill, I suddenly looked up and chanced to see a red-tailed hawk overhead, struggling in flight, making little headway against the wind.
Buffeted, he braced, buckled, then barrel rolled directly into the wind; veered, braced, then buckled again; momentarily held tight, then was suddenly swept away, cast off into the southwestern sky, pummeled by a sea of pounding air.
His heroic efforts brought to mind Saint Exupéry’s description of flying into the rushing winds off the coast of Patagonia in the mid 1930s. According to Saint Exupéry’s account, “For three months of the year the speed of these winds at ground level is up to one hundred miles an hour.”
“In the first place, I was standing still. Having banked right in order to correct a sudden drift, I saw the landscape freeze abruptly where it was and remain jiggling in the same spot. I was making no headway. My wings had ceased to nibble into the outline of the earth.
“There was no longer a horizon. I was in the wings of a theatre cluttered up with bits of scenery. Vertical, oblique, horizontal, all of plane geometry was awhirl.
“Whenever I seemed about to take my bearings a new eruption would swing me round in a circle or send me tumbling wing over wing and I would have to try all over again to get clear of all this rubbish.
“I was wrestling with chaos, was wearing myself out in a battle with chaos, struggling to keep in the air a gigantic house of cards that kept collapsing despite all I could do.
“The first blow sent me rolling over and over and the sky became a slippery dome on which I could not find a footing.
“Here where I was, facing west, I was as good as motionless, unable to either advance or retreat….So I let myself drift to the left. I had the feeling, meanwhile, that the wind’s violence had perhaps slackened.”
Saint Exupéry concludes with this observation: “The physical drama itself cannot touch us until someone points out its spiritual sense.”
For me, it was much the same with the hawk.
“The Elements” in Wind, Sand and Stars, pp. 58-68.