after three moderately happy but never really quite perfect years together,
we broke up. My beloved sheepishly told me that he loved someone else.
He knew I would be miserable, and as he was still fond of me, he tried
to appear miserable, too, through his bliss. Bliss does not like to be
cooped up. No matter how he tried, it showed around the edges: his chin
had relaxed; he had stopped nervously wiggling his right foot.
Suddenly he knew what he looked like twenty
years in the future. When he said good-bye he was already floating forward.
He seemed to be speeding up, taking on a patina of diaper changes and
solid oak furniture, his expressive fingers leaving trails as they sadly
waved to me. They, at least, would remember.
“But I love you!” I shouted after him.
I don’t believe old feelings should be quietly put to sleep. They should
be set free, given a chance to fend for themselves. I wanted them to go
out and stalk him, to set traps, to string their soft sticky nets across
the door of the cafe where we used to play gin rummy late on Sunday nights.
“Run!” I told them. “Run for your lives!” They hobbled forth. But there
was the future, snatching. He was gone.
Early the next morning I swept the small deck behind my cabin clear of
dry leaves and twigs, evidence of the wind’s nightly excess. Then I placed
a chair in the center of the deck and stood on it to make my announcement.
I had something to say that I thought would be of interest to all present,
to the steep gold hills, the poison oak bramble, the trees, cows, snakes,
hawks and smaller birds, the squirmy things in the dirt.
“May I have your attention,” I said politely. “I am single now. This was
rather sudden and I must admit, it is not at all what I had hoped for.
It has left me uncertain of my place in the world, and so, I wanted all
of you to know that at this moment I am willing to consider offers that
yesterday I would not have....”
I asked if anything would marry me.
A deep silence came upon the landscape, a silence composed of thousands
of things large and small holding absolutely still. It was like the silence
in my cabin last night, when he said that he loved her not me and I asked
“Look, these things happen,” said the wind. He couldn’t keep still any
longer, there was too much of him. His words echoed down from the hills
and life returned, the trees shook their leaves, off the hook, back to
the sun, and the grass resumed growing.
“You don’t think I’m serious, do you? Or maybe you don’t think I’m good
“Life goes on. You’ll see.”
“But I’m good,” I said. And as I said this a sense of my worthiness surged
in me. My particular worthiness, rising up like a tender riot inside me:
my earnest complexity, my propensity for sudden joy, my blind devotion,
my impetuous, overzealous honesty, my organizational gifts and artistic
bents and large domestic talents. Tell him, they urged me, tell him how
good we are. I had told the man who left me. “Yes,” he had agreed, “you’re
wonderful. I know that. But it isn’t...” Love. It wasn’t love.
The wind was a handsome thing, taut and sleek, and he knew it. If men
were more easily persuaded by reason my life would be simpler. This time
I stopped myself. There are arguments one doesn’t win by arguing.
I looked around and saw that quite a large portion of the landscape could
use some cleaning up. Moss grew shaggily over the oak trees. Cow prints
dented the mud. The hills were unkempt. Dry grass stuck up everywhere,
bent, broken stalks that from the look of them had never been mowed. It
wasn’t the sort of thing I usually noticed, but just now I felt a bond
of kinship with the world’s neglected pockets. We all need attention from
time to time.
I set out to the top of the hill behind my cabin. The grass was too stiff
and brittle for the rake. It needed a neater style, low maintenance, something
closer to the ground. I began to weave it into corn rows. I started a
braid at the flat hilltop and wove it uninterrupted all the way to the
bramble bush bottom. Then I climbed back up and started another. My fingers
tucked and threaded, neat as spiders. I was grateful for the repetition
and the sense of large purpose. I had so much to do. Busy, busy. Sometimes
I hardly thought about him. (Watching my hands I remembered how he would
take one of mine between both of his and hold it to his chest while we
watched a movie, usually a silly romantic comedy, which he loved and I
hated, except with him, when it felt as if we too had just fallen in love.)
Ah, but the wind, I told myself. Think about the wind. Now there was something
I would always be able to feel. Changeable, unpredictable, fidgety, even
shifty and unfaithful, yes. But he was always there. I felt him on my
face, holding it with perfect delicacy. Who better knew the shapes of
things? I stretched and smiled, shook out my hair, rolled up my sleeves
and undid a button of my blouse. The grass waved; the wind was watching.
From my green chair at sunset I looked up at the hills in their borrowed
fire. The braided lines threw precise shadows, turning the contours of
knolls and lumps into an elegant orange and gold topography. My hill was
no longer at the wind’s wild mercy, all those grasses blowing this way
and that. It was a small revenge, and a pretty evening. That night I slept
I woke up in the mood for pecan waffles and maple syrup and spicy fennel
sausages. I like to eat. What doesn’t? So why not, I thought, cook a meal
I spent the day scattering bread, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, millet.
I caught bugs and fed them to the lizards. I let the earwigs in the hummingbird
feeder loose in their own pool of nectar. I fed mice to the snakes and
owls, rabbits to the bobcats. I fed peanuts to the mice and gophers and
woodrats. That’s how I caught them.
But that’s what they would have eaten anyway, you might say. Well yes,
but everything was thoughtfully prepared. When I fed the coyotes their
squirrels, for example, I first removed some of the less digestible bits—tails,
feet and claws, little teeth—then soaked them in a nice sauce.
I fed catfood to the bluejays. They love it. I fed hay to the cows, extra
hay to the nursing ones. The pregnant cows I fed by hand, holding handfuls
of straw up to their mouths so they wouldn’t need to bend over. It is
big enough being a cow without having another cow crammed inside of you.
And all day I kept pots of water boiling on the stove, making clouds of
steam to feed the wind. The doors and windows were wide open and I could
see him tasting it, the vapor rising and shifting direction. Fresh sweet
clouds, scented with rosewater. Delicious.
The next afternoon I sat on top of the braided hill with my watercolors
and pad and sketched the wind from various flattering angles. I showed
him bending the trees, lifting cows into the air, blowing clouds about
in the sky. The clouds in my drawings formed enormous puffy words: “Hi
there,” they said. “How’s it going?” It was just a hint. I knew the wind
could do this if he wanted. And I would have loved it. A sign, yes, a
very large sign that could be seen for miles. Something that could be
seen (I realized I was thinking this) even from where he was, with his
new love. (“Look,” she would say, pointing up to the sky. “Isn’t that
your old girlfriend? Who is she with?” And he would look up and see me
sitting there in the clouds and think that perhaps he had underestimated
me all along.)
I was wearing a loose gauzy skirt and a blouse with sleeves like balloons
for the wind to fill. I unbuttoned the sleeves and tried to trap him inside.
He leaked out the cuffs. When the grass rippled on a nearby hill I ran
to it, sometimes leaping into the air to see if he would puff and lift
me just a little higher. He never did. The air would go still, and several
hills over, other grass would sigh from his attention. Well, he was teasing
me, I told myself. And a hawk would fly from a treetop on that other hill
and float, spread the feathers of its wings and be held in the air. Of
course I was jealous. And white thistle blossoms, bits of fluff, would
take a scenic flight down the whole valley, as if they owned it. Yes,
I knew he had other admirers; other toys. Far off, toward the ocean, a
wisp of fog tumbled over a ridge, stretched and swirled by the breeze
into one diaphanous form after another. Voluptuous, like a wedding gown.
White, then gold, then scarlet. And then it was dark.
All I wanted, really, was something to appreciate me. Something to tell
me that among all other creatures, it had chosen me. That is a great deal,
but it is not unusual. Look anywhere.
It was another warm sunny day. The sky was the endless blue of other possibilities.
The clouds were particularly happy, having been brushed by the racy wind
into fine high-flying horsetails. The pine trees positively sang. I could
hardly bear it. I closed all the curtains and went back to bed.
I didn’t want to start over again. I didn’t want to go out looking for
someone I wouldn’t recognize because I didn’t know him yet. I wanted the
whole thing settled, now, here, happily over and done with. Comfortable
old shoes. Rocking chairs by the fire. I was alone and I didn’t want to
be alone and it was all the fault of the man who had left. Why couldn’t
he have loved me? What did I lack that she had? Was he sure I didn’t have
I used to cook him salmon baked in herb butter. I remember the loud appreciative
noises he made eating it. He ate much faster than I did and when finished,
he preferred to eat from my plate rather than get seconds. And I preferred
this, too. I liked the way we poured one glass of wine and both sipped
from it, sharing.
In my imagination he had grown a beard, with some gray in it. And he had
gained a few pounds; his formerly flat belly now edged out over his belt.
He had taken to wearing a tweed jacket, for camouflage. Could it only
have been five days? Impossible.
In the middle of the night I played little tapes on the answering machine
with the messages I had saved, an infatuated archive of the sound of his
voice. I realized with a calm certainty that I loved him. It was like
finding a neatly raked gravel garden in a wilderness without other trails
or clearings. One corner of the world had been sorted out. There was a
place to start. I reminded myself, with the same calm certainty, that
he felt exactly the same way, about her.
Towards late afternoon I finally got out of bed. I had figured out all
sorts of things, and now I had to forget them and go out and look for
a whole new set of things that weren’t true yet but someday might be.
With my flute and a blanket and a bunch of grapes, I followed a cow trail
to a grassy spot between piles of large rocks, a sheltered nook almost
like a cave. Out of sight of my cabin, and out of the wind.
What happens when love has no place to go? There was so much of it, filling
me up and then, when no more could fit, spilling out, leaking onto everything.
Things came alive with it. Deep loneliness is sublime, but in a terrifying
way, a philosopher said. I looked at the rock I sat against: the gray,
chipped, rough face of stone and the lichen growing over, spreading like
uneven crochet. It was overwhelming; it was sublime.
The echoing rocks gave the sound of my flute the aching beauty I felt
inside and wanted to show outside but usually botched. Here I am, a slow
waltz in a minor key. No matter how sad I am, you can still dance to me.
I played until dark, and when it got dark I honestly felt I had helped
to make it that way.
A mockingbird started to sing. I tried to play along with him. He had
his chirps, spills, cheerops, and slides; I had my warbles and riffs and
trills. It was an imperfect, uncoordinated duet. We sparkled and we were
terrible. It made me laugh. But my bird was utterly unperturbed. He ignored
me and declared himself, with or without accompaniment, the worthiest
bird out singing in the night.
How long the wind had been listening, I don’t know. But when I stopped
to catch my breath, he tried to lift up my skirt. I pulled it down. The
wind whipped by, making little sounds in the flute. I wrapped my fingers
over the mouthpiece. He swooshed again and held the skirt up, funneling
around my thighs. “Hey, stop it!” I shouted. He just laughed and blew
my bird away.
“Put him down!”
“Oh, come on! He can fly!”
But I was furious. I started back along the cow path. I could hardly see,
it was too dark and I was too mad. I stumbled over stones and branches.
When the wind tried to steady me, I kicked at him and fell. Of course
I lost the path, in the end. I had to let him nudge my shoulders to keep
me in the right direction.
“Really, you play very well,” he said. It felt like he had a giant arm
around me from my shoulders to my hips. “And it’s a very pretty skirt.
It suits you. It ripples when you walk. You do, too. Did you know that?
Hey, slow down! Come on. Would you like to see the fog jump over the fence?
Like gigantic sheep.” I just shook my head. “Don’t be so sad,” the wind
“You play like a comet’s tail. Like ice on fire,” the wind said.
“I know how you feel,” the wind said. “You ask yourself, why should it
be up to him? They’re my feelings. Shouldn’t it be up to me? Shouldn’t
he love me, if I love him?”
“That’s easy for you to say,” I said. “If you don’t like something, you
just blow it away.”
“Yes, that’s true,” the wind said.
During the night there were sounds of the world becoming restless, the
wind striding, leading in his troops of hotter air.
First I threw the comforter off the bed. Then I took off my pajamas. Finally
I had to open the windows, but outside the air was warm, even the sheet
kept me too hot to sleep.
He started by lifting up the hairs on my arm. That way of blowing lightly,
oh so lightly, to wake up the skin. Tickling the outside of my arm, then
the inside, then the soft skin in the crook of my elbow. He blew a feather
of down across my stomach. He swirled over my lips and my closed eyes.
He knew I wasn’t asleep. But I didn’t move for a long, long, time.
Ah well, here we go again, I told myself. Another man who will just leave
me. But in the dark, the wind has such an advantage.