If you could imagine how still the afternoon was, the ocean without the slightest ripple, every bird song audible and echoing, not the slightest whisper in the trees. Even the leaves slept in this sudden, unexpected warmth. Surely this was a mistake; a hot August day misplaced here in May, but no one in their right mind would point that out. Why draw attention to it? It was the kind of day that all one really ought to do is rest on a log by the water and feel the sun.
Sometimes, I go to the beach to watch the wind, to feel it slip across my skin after its tumble with the waves. As if the hairs on my arms might capture its strength as it passes, I hold my arms out to the wind and wait.
In the forest, the wind is visible in a way that it’s not if you’re standing on a city street. It’s the same wind, I know, but you can’t see it in the same way. In the forest, the wind arrives sometimes unannounced, perhaps slipping by in disguise. Was that the wind? In the forest nobody answers.
But sometimes the wind comes with force, its own procession leading the way; a hundred drummers march in line and every tree takes notice. Their branches reach and bend, waving and bowing as if God was passing through.
“Who touched my robe?” the wind asks. I don’t think it matters much to the wind, but the question must be asked. In the forest nobody answers.
I rely on the wind, but I’ve got no choice about it. I don’t have the magic in my pen that some writers do, the pages flying out of their notebooks behind them like tiny pterodactyls, fully formed and flapping at birth. No, I must wait for the wind. This is how inspiration arrives for me. I reach up and pluck it from the air.
“Who touched my robe?” the wind asks. And this is how I begin.
In the forest, I listen for the wind. You can’t of course, hear the wind itself, but even in a breeze you hear the leaves shivering. It’s the kind of mysterious shiver that travels up your spine. The leaves begin to whisper as the wind takes its place. I don’t eavesdrop. They can whisper all they want, I’m only there for the wind.
Some days I long for a storm. I long to see the ocean sweep across the beach in enormous waves, the firs dizzy in the sky with motion, dead branches snapping off here and there, crashing to the ground. Prepare the way! Make the paths straight! Bring on the wind, I shout!
But on a summer afternoon that has somehow been dropped, still and silent, into early May, the forest will sleep. It’s true the birds were delighted; they don’t need the wind like I do.
Was I disappointed? Not really. Who could be disappointed on such a day?
But then something caught my eye. On the far side of the parking lot was a fluttering, an anxious kind of flapping about, no more than ten inches from the ground. It was so frantic, I wondered if a hummingbird had been caught in a shrub.
As I got closer, I could see it was not a hummingbird at all. It was a single green leaf, dangling from a spindly weed-of-a-thing, growing at the base of an enormous tree. It was flapping, back and forth, as if it was motorized. How could this be?
I glanced up at the branches around me. Not a thing moved. Nothing. The leaf continued it’s flutter, which seemed to me like a small child waving, opening and closing her fingers in exaggerated movements, knowing for the first time that it meant something to do this with her hand.
I couldn’t help myself. I waved back.
There, I thought. There is the wind, present even when you can’t see it.
I watched the leaf, thinking. If you are positioned, I could see, and ready for the wind, it will find you, even if you’re just one leaf.
And perhaps, the voice of one small leaf caught up in a breeze, has more to say about the wind than a whole forest in a storm.