High & Dry surveys the legacy of human enterprise in the California desert. Together, writer/historian Christopher Langley and photographer Osceola Refetoff document human activity, past and present, in the context of future development.
Hard dry wind just suddenly blew up obscuring the Inyos and their setting sun blush in the billowing clouds of dust. The winds are ripping at all the young green leaves and as the skies become prematurely darkened, it is easy to imagine desert spirits rushing across the rooftops looking for an invitation to enter. The dogs draw near, coyotes howl and now a fire department siren sounds signaling a car wreck with an injury. It is a very inhospitable welcome to nightfall.
Text to Osceola from Chris - May 16, 2013 at 4:43 PM
Haboob...khamsin...harmattan...simoon...aejej...Bad-I-Sad-O-Bist-Roz...samiel...sirocco...xlokk...zonda...santaana...shamal...sharav...tebbad... sukhovey...brickfielder...chocolatero...diablo...dustdevil...sand auger... dancing devil...dust whirl...foehn ...katabatic...leveche...mato waminyomi...nashi, naschi...bora...
I realize that is not 100 names yet, but it is a measure of all the names people in the desert lands around the world have for their constant companion: the wind.
The joke here in the desert is "Well, the wind doesn't blow from this direction all the time. Sometimes it blows from the other direction."
In our part of the desert, the geography forms a wind tunnel between two mountain ranges. It is the engine that begins the Santa Anas. The air slides down into the desert and then across the Los Angeles basin heating up and drying out as it goes.
Raymond Chandler began his famous short story "Red Wind" this way: "There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands' necks. Anything can happen."
The desert often has three-day winds. For a day the wind stops and then it blows again for another three days. In my town people get on edge after the wind has blown a few days. These are not horrible winds, not property destroying winds, although we have those from time to time. These winds are constant and a bit gusty. They nag at you like a lover you have left unsatisfied, or a friend you have failed through laziness or neglect. They cannot possibly get what they want, these winds, but they incessantly work at you as if it might make a difference.
We do have fierce winds, blowing off the mountains to the west. These are foehn winds, and they create rain shadows. Our rain shadow is the biggest for the California deserts because it is caused by the highest of the mountains in the contiguous states: Mount Whitney. The Mojave has been formed by these rain shadows.
A foehn wind is a hot dry wind that flows down the leeward side of a mountain range down through mountain passes. In mountainous areas like the Sierra Nevada, there can be enormous distortions in the usual expected wind flow over the rough and irregular ridges and glaciated valleys. These cause sudden unpredictable flows and turbulence called rotors. Lenticular clouds called "Sierra Waves" often top these turbulent movements. They signal increasing surface winds.
I have been bounced about on the highway by large swirling dust devils, pushed to the soft shoulder on occasion. My house roof has been stripped of shingles by a west wind howling down onto our area. I have been caught in blinding dust storms that rise suddenly out of nowhere.
On another night I thought I would write more about these terrible winds with scary names, some of which are found at the top of this essay. As I sit here a gentler wind is blowing out of the south. The wind is whistling a lonely but sweet tune. This desert wind, a gentle erratic wind, has no name. It is a sad, empty wind, a wind that is as uncertain as the lives lived by many of the people who have chosen the Mojave as their home. This wind sounds desert lonely.
This wind touches me through the open window. It whistles through the screen, around the eaves, modulated, singing but without a melody. It is turning cold now. It makes me realize no matter how many friends I have, nor how many people love me, that in the end I will die alone. Some things we must do alone. Dying is one of them. This desert wind whispers that secret in my ear even as it caresses my cheek. It brings a melancholy peace to my life just now. Thank you, desert wind for your soft gift of comfort and a reality check too.