Wind and Willa
Blustery days put me on edge. The South Carolina Lowcountry isn’t supposed to be wind-whipped but today the seasons are battling it out on the banks of the Beaufort River. The water is the color of Spanish moss flailing from the massive boughs of Live Oaks. I can’t relax, settle into my thoughts, with palm fronds scraping the window. And I’m not sure why.
When I lived here with Byrne, I could always toss these questions into the air between us. There would be wine, on the porch, and maybe a sliver of cake. And stories, always hers, that I scoured for meaning. She was confidant and fortune teller. I could interpret my life through hers.
Now that she’s gone, I unravel truths from books instead. I wrap the ideas of other writers around my shoulders, seeing how the words fit. Like these, from Willa Cather’s “Death Comes for the Archbishop.”
“It was the Indian manner to vanish into the landscape, not to stand out against it,” she wrote. “The Navajo hogans, among the sand and willows, were made of sand and willows. None of the pueblos would at that time admit glass windows into their dwellings. The reflection of the sun on the glazing was to them ugly and un-natural – even dangerous.”
I have tried to change the landscape, living in this house that Byrne and Duncan Miller loved. Hiding behind its windows and walls, I pretend that all I see is permanent and predictable. Something I can draw from, and write about, at will. The wind reminds me I am an intruder.
One of Byrne’s first adopted “children,” a Navajo elder I consider my brother-by-Byrne, if not by birth, wrote a letter to me when he found out I was writing a memoir of my time with her. We were planning a reunion, here in the house he had visited on momentous occasions in Byrne’s life: major dance concerts, anniversaries, memorial services. One line in his letter has confused me, until today.
“At times I want to see the house and the trees again, but did not know ways to them.”
My brother-by-Byrne sees himself as walking through landscapes, not discovering or claiming them. What matters are the memories and feelings they evoke. The path is not one he controls. He is at peace with that. I sit at my desk and wonder when the wind will stop and I can settle into certainty again.
4 thoughts on “Wind and Willa”
April 3, 2011 at 3:58 PM
In our other life, nor’easters used to set me on edge. They often lasted days on end and always left me terribly unsettled.
Winds blew off LI Sound buffetting our house on a hill that overlooked a harbor that opened to the Sound. And although I was usually safely ensconed inside, I frequently felt like a boat being tossed around on my mooring buoy.
I thought it odd to feel the same way down here the last two windly weeks – on edge and not understanding why I can’t feel as bouyant as Pooh Bear on a blustery day. Why the wind seems to pass through my skin to stir my soul in strange unwanted ways.
April 3, 2011 at 7:26 PM
I love it when other writers leave comments. Thanks Barbara
April 3, 2011 at 11:36 PM
You have made me realize that when the wind blows, I too, feel unrest and inability to focus. I seem to just look out the windows and see what is happening to the world around me–grasses blowing like waves on the hillside across the way, or the bending and flailing of limbs all around us. I think it’s nature’s way of getting our attention. “Look at what is happening” “What is going to happen next?” “Look at my power to make you pay attention!” Then when the calm comes there is a quiet that surrounds you and you notice.
April 7, 2011 at 3:08 AM
Wonderful, Teresa. I felt the wind. I felt your unease. And I wanted to drink wine on your porch with you and Byrne. Keep ’em coming!