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Jan DeBlieu, Wind : How the Flow of Air has Shaped Life, Myth, and the Land. Boston : Houghton Mifflin, 1998. 294 pages; includes bibliographic references and index.
I think this would be an excellent book for someone to start with who is skeptical about "science books" in general. While there’s definitely science in the book, there isn’t much technical writing, and there’s a lot of discussion of literature and feelings and impressions.
I loved the chapter when DeBlieu looked at the mythology of the wind, especially related to the Navajo. In their belief system, every newborn receives a personal, guiding wind with her first breath. As DeBlieu explains,
Early missionaries to the Navajo believed that the internal wind resembled a soul, but in fact the concept is much more complex and not easily translated into the vernacular of Western culture. The inner wind draws constantly from other winds and attaches the person to the entire swirling, holy atmosphere. "That within us stands from our mouth downward, it seems," a singer said. "We breath by it. We live by it. It moves all our parts, even our hearts."
Isn’t that a beautiful thing?
I also learned lots of interesting science-y stuff: my favourite new discovery is the existence of aeolian ecosystems. What’s that you ask? It’s an ecosystem "supported entirely by wind, [that] exists in the most baked and oxygen-starved landscape on earth." (That would be the Himalayas!) I was going to just summarise this passage, but I think it portrays the magic of life so vividly, I’m going to include it:
The algae and insect carcasses [blown by the wind] attract tiny but sturdy scavengers--salticid spiders, daddy long-legs, jumping bristletails, annelid worms that can survive encased within ice. These in turn feed lizards, salamanders, rattlesnakes, and a few species of birds. Snowmelt forms pools inhabited by delicate springtails and fairy shrimp. Where water pours in muddy torrents from the mouths of glaciers stoneflies congregate in dense clouds, feeding on wind-borne debris that may have been trapped in the ice for hundreds of years.
Isn’t that neat?!
Well, I should probably stop now before I end up quoting the entire book for you. But DeBlieu looks at the wind from every angle--religious, historical, and personal. On the scientific side, she looks at how wind affects people, animal, plants, the earth, the water--so many aspects of science! She also looks at all kinds of wind, from the gentle soothing breezes to the angry acts of God that destroy lives. And she does it all with a meditative, lyrical tone of voice that draws you in to her introspective world. I highly recommend this one.
"Where I live, on North Carolina’s Outer Banks, the days are defined by wind. Without it the roar of the surf would fall silent; the ocean would become as languid as a lake. Trees would sprout wherever their seeds happened to fall, creating the frontal dune, pushing a hundred feet up with spreading crowns. We would go about our lives in a vacuum. That is how it feels in the few moments when the wind dies: ominous, apocalyptic. As if the world has stopped turning."
"Yet for all its intricacies, the ways in which wind ripples the water surface is the best understood of its many effects on the oceans. Wind is both the sculptor of waves and the engine of currents. It is the spoon that stirs layers and helps create the flows that carry oxygen to the bottom and nutrients to the surface. …And wind blows the line between air and water, pulling vast quantities of heat and moisture into the atmosphere, changing patterns of weather around the globe."
"Chronic pain, too, may intensify on windy days for reasons that defy precise medical explanation. Perhaps it is simply that wind causes some people unusual stress. A study of Chicago-area residents with arthritis found that the patients’ pain intensified on windy days, even among those who did not believe that weather could significantly affect their illness."
"In past seasons I have hiked these woods in search of birds, butterflies, wildflowers, and trees-and now geologic forms. How many ways are there of looking at a landscape?"
-- Notes by EVA