Windbound

Harry Drabik

My stay in Duluth had a day added by the recent snow event. In the immediate Twin Ports this didn’t amount to much, but watching the radar and knowing the history of March storms along the North Shore I stayed put. Good thing I did. The day of rain and two inches of snow the Ports saw was two feet of heavy snow across the border in Thunder Bay and easily half that amount in the higher terrain above Lake Superior. Not that I needed to do so, I watched more commercial TV and ate meals far too nice for my activity level of waiting for the weather to turn.

When we’re young natural events are adventures because we don’t “know” enough to fear being stranded in a blizzard and dying of hypothermia or carbon monoxide inside a stalled car. I wasn’t fearful of flying until dad’s flight instructor took me up. He had the mistaken idea a boy of ten strapped alone in the seat of a PT 19 would relish the thrills of high speed maneuvers, barrel rolls, and screaming dives. He had it all wrong and apparently couldn’t hear my screams over the roar of the engine or the noise of bladder draining dives. In that era it was fairly common for a celebrity or college team to perish in an air crash, cause of much angst among adults facing air travel. In my case terror over flight had nothing to do with how Carole Lombard died, a name many won’t recognize but can look up at need.

My first quasi adult experience being wind or weather bound came at age fifteen on a Scout canoe trip. A daylong rainstorm was the main culprit, but with rain came sharp gusting wind able to pin a canoe ashore or swamp it in curlers if we’d been cocky enough to think we could best Mom Nature. The risk of paddling kept us on firm ground where we camped, five of us shoe horned into two Explorer tents pitched face-to-face so we’d only need one sheer lashing to hold both upright. If you’ve never camped with teenage Scouts you don’t know what you missed. I can assure you the sound of rain dripping on taut canvas and scent of wet boots and damp socks are unforgettable when you’ve little else to do but await the next mealtime when you have to struggle outdoors to kindle a fire using your Scout skills and maybe some white gas as a clincher. (Wet ground is a fire killer so white gas was an understandable form of cheating.) Boredom was a real problem. One of the group spent his time complaining of the weather and questioning why we’d taken the particular route we’d followed instead of another he was sure would have been better. (We see his type in politics by those second guessing and full of complaint while adding nothing of practical use to the present.) Another of the crew took out his frustration by streaking from the tent for a twenty minute swim from which he’d return a shivering form with genitals reduced to a thumbnail. The rest of us played cards. After thirty hours stranded we left without regret, but as I recall it the storm of complaint from one quarter lasted the rest of the trip because I couldn’t get anyone help me to leave him behind to find his own way. Might have been good for him.

The longest I was weather trapped was for slightly more than three days windbound on a shore that was ideal until a huge front decided to follow a prolonged path of blustery destruction. As with the first experience, boredom was a concern. I was fifteen years older but not much better at knowing what to do with plenty-plenty time on my hands. One activity, a useful practice, was making firewood and preparing tinder for ease of fire starting. Over the first two days I had a pile of cut and split under cover and stacked five feet high. Future years of campers had me to thank. Another occupation was fishing from shore. Not only did that activity supply something to do, but it did so promising the additional time killer of cleaning fish and eventually making a meal of it. After forty eight hours of busy work crammed between periods of rain enforced lounging I was desperate enough to emulate my youthful companion and contemplate a swim. If I took a swim I might drown, by then a more hopeful prospect than finding new roots and pine cones with my backside. When the hold of wind and scudding rain kept us in the tent we talked. I’m a known talker but don’t think I’d ever said as much in my entire life before as I did those few days. I suspect we said or revealed things we’d later regret, but once the topics of funny incident and favorite food is used up you end up diving deeper and deeper into the sink hole of human experience. One area was avoided; sex. The male mind is seldom more than a few seconds from perking up over that topic, but in some situations it is a subject useful to pursue as trying to enjoy the aroma from frying bacon in a vacuum.

While I sat out the weather in Duluth I was reminded of other times being windbound and the ways people respond to forces outside our control. I thought this a handy reminder in a season of heavy political wind. Think of name calling and denigration of opponents as a fright response to things outside control. Damning the weather is no different than saying damn liberal or cursed Republican. As I observed the scud of rain the background contained snips of fake history shows and snaky political comment. The more history, education, or politics has to be entertaining the less content and utility those things have other than as time wasters and distractions. Planning, progress, and politics don’t need to be entertaining. Those things require substance. Forget criticism. I want to hear the proposed action steps. Anything less is fluff, like a feather of down loose from a sleeping bag and lost on the wind.