You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.
It’s finally warm enough for me to leave my windows open at night. This lets me wake to the sounds of Wild Turkeys gobbling and Phoebes scolding, rather than the ring of my alarm clock. I don’t even mind the occasional midnight interruption of sleep by barred owls, coyotes or distant trains. I welcome it after a winter closed-off from the sounds of nature.
The past two days have been the nicest yet this spring. Perfect temperatures and a steady breeze that’s been bringing in more that just optimistic thoughts. At T.C. Steele State Historic Site yesterday, I met retired I.U. biology professor Don Whitehead. He was out scouting for birds for an upcoming hike. He noted that the recent winds had brought in a lot of migrating birds overnight and he expected even more to have arrived by the next day. Perfect timing for his bird hike.
I listened to Don as he listed the birds he was hearing — Scarlet Tanager, Vireos and others. I couldn’t filter out individual calls through the noise of the wind, much less identify which bird was doing the calling. Identifying birds by their songs seems as much magic as skill to me.
I know that any skill can be developed with practice and repetition, but some people seem to have a gift for languages, including the avian ones. Spring is a season of optimism, so I’ve set an ambitious goal — to learn one new bird call this year. I’ll never match Don’s repertoire, but I hope to have another familiar sound to listen for next spring when I open up the windows again.
So, where’s the connection to the title — a line from a Bob Dylan song? These recent breezes have reminded me of our need to (re)sharpen our senses. Today’s world leaves us isolated from nature and we’ve lost skills once taken for granted. By listening to the wind through my open window, I can tell which way the wind blows. It sounds different coming through the pines to the north than it does from the west where it passes through deciduous trees.
The Steeles didn’t need the weather channel either. The House of the Singing Winds was named for the sound the breezes made blowing through the porch screens. A sleeping porch was included in the house’s original design, so they woke up knowing immediately what the weather was.
Dylan’s weatherman reference has a double meaning, which those of us who grew up during a ‘certain era’ may recognize. But the winds blowing this spring are not ones of discontent, and I hope they will return this summer to blow away the humidity Indiana is so famous for. I don’t want to be too tempted to shut the windows, turn on the air, and have to rely on the weatherman to tell me wind direction.
Davie Kean is the master gardener at the T.C. Steele State Historic Site.