Janet Sheridan: The winds of March
March 2, 2012
I know two things about the Russian empress, Catherine the Great: In her royal portraits, she appears to have impeccable posture, and she revealed an understanding of the psychological impact of wind in an oft-quoted comment: "A great wind is blowing, and that gives you either imagination or a headache."
I'm quite sure Catherine never visited our region in March, but her comment makes me think she could have.
From December through February, I expect harsh snow-burdened gales to turn our roads into obstacle courses, pursue livestock across drifted fields, and snatch branches from whip-lashed trees.
But fierce winds in March unsettle me.
Just when the world begins to stir with the promise of daily walks through a gentle spring — sun warming my face and fresh air dancing — the promising month falls prey to unpredictable winds.
A balmy breeze, which invites sauntering in the morning, freshens and becomes bothersome in the afternoon, causing me to tuck my chin and scurry. By the next day, it's surly and vindictive, slapping at my reddened face no matter which direction I turn.
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Several calm days with stilled leaves and pacified air follow, and I begin to believe spring is more than a myth I cling to in order to preserve my sanity. But the next morning, I walk into a strong, ceaseless gale blowing from one direction, its insistent monotonous bluster unbroken by the ebb and flow of gusts.
It's enough to make a walker paranoid.
I became a student of March winds as a child. I had no choice: my elementary school abounded with displays of lions, lambs, and puffy-cheeked faces blowing playful breezes in which kites frolicked.
My sixth-grade teacher, Mr. Wadsen, had black eyebrows that grew together in a commanding line and a lack of skill with bulletin boards.
From September through February he relied on purchased posters touting correct punctuation and displays of student work with the stirring caption, "Good Job!"
But inspiration struck in March: he hung a cutout of a lion roaring a storm cloud out of its snarling mouth and another of a fluffy sheep reclining in a daisy-filled meadow with a banner reading: "March: in like a lion and out like a lamb."
Next, he divided us into groups to make newspaper kites stapled to light pieces of wood he supplied.
We carefully tore strips from an old sheet to create tails for stability, attached kite string, and went outside to fly our creations.
Within minutes, a rambunctious wind, which hadn't learned to play well with others, grabbed our kites, bouncing them across the playground in swirls of dust or tossing them high into trees to be impaled by bare branches.
We had a glorious time.
After the carnage, Mr. Wadsen suggested we change the bulletin board caption to "March: in with a blizzard and out on a gale."
In fourth grade, our class presented the program for the March PTA meeting. Mrs. Thomas selected a poem about the wind by Christina Rossetti and coached us in a choral reading of its lovely lines: "Who has seen the wind? Neither you nor I, but when the trees bow down their heads, the wind is passing by."
She assigned Blake and Lamont to produce pleasant wind sounds — whooshes and soft sighs — as a background to our words.
Rehearsals went well, but the night of the performance, in front of parents, teachers, and school board members, Blake and Lamont succumbed to their weakness for erratic behavior and increased the volume of their whooshes.
By the time we finished the second verse, they'd whipped up a nor'easter.
Encouraged by chuckles from the audience, other class reprobates added their banshee howls to the hurricane, while those of us with more decorum laughed uncontrollably at their antics.
We didn't get recess for a week.