But tree, I have seen you taken and tossed,
And if you have seen me when I slept,
You have seen me when I was taken and swept
And all but lost.
Robert Frost, Tree at my Window
We who live near the Rocky Mountain Front are familiar with that sudden, temperature- raising blast that melts winter out of our front yards within an hour. It can be crazy making. Actually, winds that bring madness are known by different names: in Montana, Chinooks, in France, mistrals, in California, Santa Annas. All are phenomena known in Europe as Fohn winds, dry, warm, downslope winds that occur in the lee side of a mountain range. (Santa Annas actually come in off the desert, but certainly affect moods.) An arching cloud cover can signal Chinook weather.
I’ve heard that places in Europe ban people from marrying and judges from imposing sentences during Fohn winds because humans can’t be trusted to make good decisions during such times. Joan Didion, in her essay on the Santa Annas, quotes writer Raymond Chandler, “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 list of music albums and books that refer to Fohn winds is long and growing. Such winds frighten, depress, and generally torment novel, as well as nonfiction, subjects.
I have to say, though, that I’m usually grateful for that sudden snow-eating rush of air, and accept our Montana Chinooks as benevolent presences. Still, wind easily changes our moods up or down. As with any force of nature, we ought to respect it. The poet Christina Rossetti gives a hint of caution here courtesy of trees:
Who has seen the wind?
Neither you nor I,
But when the trees bow down their heads,
The wind is passing by.