by Sarah West
In movement we find refreshment. Whether that movement is a soft breeze or a powerful gust, wind is the garden’s tonic: invisible energy that disperses pollen and seed, animates foliage and branches, transports scent, gives voice to the silent. Wind is the connector. And like a fiddle player pressing bow to strings, it sends the still garden into dance and laughter.
Wind moves without purpose other than to shift air from higher to lower pressure. On a global scale, wind materializes as air at the equator heats up and moves north or south to the cooler poles. With the earth’s rotation, this otherwise vertical flow of air is pulled laterally. Landforms create friction that slows wind speed at the earth’s surface. Bodies of water, temperature and topography help to shape the character and power of localized winds.
Being but one corporeal instrument of detection, we experience wind from where we work, often as an impish spirit, undoing a pile of gathered leaves, chilling exposed skin, sending a lock of hair straight into the eyes. Wind has its softer side, cooling a sweat-moistened brow or carrying the sweet scent of flowers from where they bloom to where we sit. Wind thrills as it intimidates, causing the tops of tall trees to sway with the sound of a waterfall. All in all, wind’s simple game of moving from here to there seems a companion as much as an elemental force.
Wind has a long and storied presence in folklore and mythology. So irresistible to personify, it has inspired a grand pantheon of gods and goddesses across the globe. Wind deities run the gamut between weather tricksters and vital life forces.
Vayu, the Hindu god of wind, conflates atmospheric air movement with individual breath. In a story about the deities of bodily functions competing, each impressed their influence on the body by leaving it (eyesight, hearing), but only one deity, Vayu, was powerful enough to destroy all the others with his departure. Much like the Chinese concept of qi, Vayu personifies all that connects the disparate parts of the body, of the soul and of the earth.
Perhaps the newest in that pantheon of personifications is a web-based map simply called earth. The recent work of programmer Cameron Beccario, earth incorporates real-time weather data into an animated image of global wind movement. The map loads as a view of the globe, and can be turned in any direction or zoomed into to see more specific locations.
The page is clean—hardly any print, no advertisements—which heightens its sense of mystery and awe. Wind speed is indicated by color, and air currents by delicate lines that draw themselves, flowing and swirling like a horse’s mane over oceans and continents. Certainly there are practical applications of such a program, but is seems to have been created without any of those in mind. This wind deity in map form makes the invisible visible, pulling back to watch wind play on its grandest scale, revealing the enthralling beauty of a thing that is so powerful and free it cannot even contain itself.
Like Vayu, Beccario’s map is a simplified and poetic representation that offers a scrap of insight to the greater mystery. Back in the garden, we gather other scraps: the wind chimes catch their tune, the spring bulbs nod, dried grasses tap each other in chattering applause. Nearby a low whistle, wind through conifer needles, speaks like a voice from some other world, moved accidentally from there to here.