"On the planet the winds are blowing: ... The pampero blows, and the tramontane and the Boro, sirocco, levanter, mistral. Lick a finger, feel the now." ( Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Anne Dillard.) I can't read a passage like this without wanting to fly off to a strange place, lift up my arms to heaven and feel the sirocco, the polar easterlies, the chinook she writes about. So many names for nothing more than the easily explained movement of air over the surface of our world. Each name stands for a different experience, a unique place, direction and power. I want to know them all.
The Chinook, for example. I always thought I would have to go to Alaska to feel it. Now I discover that it's any warm wind blowing East from the Rocky Mountains. I grew up a few hundred miles east of those mountains. Just think, Eskimos, black bears, salmon, and me -- all enjoying a chinook! Then there's the exotic sounding tramontane. I confess I was disappointed to learn that one definition says it's any wind blowing from the opposite side of the speaker; the classic meaning is simply a north wind. A bit of a let down, really. Still, that's two down and a lot more to go.
The sirocco. Ahhh, that's definitely exotic. Desert, sheiks, and caravans with camels, right? Sorry, but no. Technically, any dust or sand storm qualifies, though I refuse to accept that. I've been in enough of those to know there's nothing exotic about them. You just swallow a lot of dirt and it gets up your nose; grit fills your eyes and your lids are plastered shut. No, thanks. As far as I'm concerned just any old sandstorm doesn't count. I insist on going through mine on a camel in the desert of Morocco. (My parents, though, would have been tickled to know they hadn't just lived through the Dust Bowl, but a whole bunch of siroccos. Sounds like a lot more fun.)
Some winds are pretty specific. A sweater wind, for instance, can melt up to two feet of snow in a day. Of course that presumes that you have at least two feet of snow in the first place. Yet another good reason for me to leave Tennessee and return to Colorado. I don't think much of my chances of getting a sweater wind otherwise. In that vein, it's a good thing I'm determined to visit Greece some day, for only there can I stand in both the gregate, which blows NE from Greece, and the etesian, his contrary twin going NW. The pampero, as I should have guessed, blows in Argentina and Uruguay. The counterpart to our north wind, it brings cold fronts in from the S or SW. While you're in the area, don't miss the Boro. You will find the tribe in NE India. Presumably, you can also pick up the wind there as it's passing from Europe to Turkey.
There are a lot more winds out there, as you might have guessed. But before I blow off for now, (sorry, couldn't resist), I must mention three more. One is called the levanter, which I initially confused with a catalog with a similar name where my husband liked to drool over, and occasionally purchase, very expensive pens. Poor levanter, it's really done nothing to offend me, spending it's time puffing along from the western Mediterranean across the Straits of Gibraltar. In the same way I always despised the mistral, which I somehow thought a feeble spring wind in France, greatly enamored of by bodice-ripper romance writers. (They use it a lot in the titles. Otherwise, how would I know?) In reality the mistral is a cold, dry, often violent wind that scours the Rhone Valley in winter and early spring. Now that's more my type. Finally, for the wind most likely to disappoint, I give you chocolatero, which blows sand around in the Gulf. That's it, no tiny little Reese's cups or dark chocolate Dove squares, just sand. How sad.
I just might become a collector of winds -- by definition and experience. I've been in plenty of them; they weren't exactly lacking in my childhood in NE Colorado. Since then they've blown on me with near hurricane strength in Florida, as near-miss typhoons in Japan, and very real tornadoes in Tennessee and Nebraska. I'm not unique. There can't possibly be anyone in this world who doesn't know how wind feels, except the children who have to live in those plastic bubbles and may never feel air moving tenderly across their cheeks or struggle to keep their balance as it tries to send them to their knees. The rest of us, the vast majority of us, know it in some form, by some name. Whether suhaili, garigliano, turnagain, or chergui, bayamo or Cockeyed Bob, it blows on us all. You could even say all of us have inherited the wind. We might as well enjoy it.
Read Well, Friend