“It is a pretty regular wind in the summertime. Its office hours are from 2 in the afternoon ’til two the next morning; and anybody venturing abroad during those twelve hours needs to allow for the wind or he will bring up a mile or two leeward of the point he’s aiming at.”
-Mark Twain, on the “Washoe Zephyr,” in Roughing It (1872)
In the desert there is a voice that reaches you, day and night, hailing you from the hills, rattling windows, calling across corridors, passing along on formless lips the good word from the playa. “Psst!” it says, from under the door, “it’s me, the wind! Just breezing through.” It is a physical sort of voice, a presence felt, a stimulus both comprehensive and utterly uncomprehending. Its actions translate louder than words. These it drowns out, rendering them mute in deference to its raw visceral power. Answering to no one, it speaks, in its omnipresent way, for all. You cannot help but listen.
In sibilant asides and meek susurration, in dulcet tones and aeolian bluster, the desert wind commands your attention, paradiddling your eardrum, tapping that ossicular hammer against its anvil, kicking the stirrup against your cochlea. It bellows; it whimpers, wheedles, wheezes. It beckons and chides; it hurls invective from time to time, in the form of grit, playa dust, tumbleweed, the odd hapless insect. It raises its voice as surely as it raises the roof off your house.
This wayward wind—the desert’s mouthpiece—is not an easy one to pin down. As an orator, its style and delivery are all over the place. Fustian at first, it grabs your pinnae by force and buffets them with claptrap—clap! buffet! clap!—pulling you this way and that along its thoughtless, circuitous track. “What a blowhard,” you think, pulling on your hat, your hood, turning your back to the torrent. “What a turgid windbag, this one.” You are taken for a ride; you are cajoled, beseeched, given the airy spiel. Then, abruptly, it blows you off, seemingly tired of having golden peroration fall on deaf ears. One minute it’s whispering sweet nothings; the next, it’s howling like a banshee, driving you away, alee, back whence you came.
Sometimes, in this windblown country, the voice of the desert yammers on long enough that you’re able to tune it out. Like static—like white, vapid noise that fades into the background, it falls below the level of consciousness, below notice. You become inured to it. And it is in moments like these—these blissfully unaware moments—that the wind delivers its coup de grâce. That is, it disappears. It pipes down, shuts up. Non-sound rushes in to fill the void. Suddenly there is a concussive whooomp…and you are met with a silence so profound, so beyond the threshold of human hearing, that it bypasses deafening and plunges straight toward vacuity—an aural black hole. You blink, shake your head, work your jaw in an attempt to depressurize your ears. The world has sonically ceased to make sense. You cry out, “What the fuck?”—and you hear your own voice. Not deaf. Whew.
Then, a minute later, the wind picks up. Just as suddenly, everything is again as it should be.