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WIND by Jan DeBlieu


How the Flow of Air Has Shaped Life, Myth, and the Land

by Jan DeBlieu

Pub Date: July 15th, 1998
ISBN: 0-395-78033-0
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Sun heats, Earth spins; there will always be wind somewhere. It has both a song and a story to tell, and natural-history writer DeBlieu (Meant to be Wild, 1991, etc.) has beautifully translated them for us. Wind is predictable (kind of) yet moody; it’s a trickster and a gangster and a life giver. Battles have been lost, civilizations vanquished, the great exploratory routes determined, all turning on the wind. As DeBlieu delightfully shows, the impact of the presence of wind on the human imagination goes back to the earliest recorded materials, to the creation myths of the Maori, the Navajo, and the people of northern Borneo, for starters, to the 12th-century wind wizardry of Lapland and the most primitive observation of animal behavior before a big blow. Fluid as her subject, DeBlieu covers much aeolian terrain: global wind systems in the troposphere, source of the world’s weather; the origins of sailing craft; the fluctuations in the westerlies that send sand marauding across the Hebrides while Antarctica gets a balmy springtime; spiders trailing gossamer, making inter-island oceanic voyages; tree leaves going tubular to reduce their surface area exposed to gales. And then there are the wicked winds: the gnawing inescapable steady winds, the death-dealing oddities known as tornadoes. And there are the winds that leave medical climatologists with dry mouths: the simoom, the melteme of the Aegean, the yamo of Uganda—they tear away at our insulation, mess with our thermoregulation—with many a hurricane in between, for DeBlieu’s own windy patch is the Outer Banks of North Carolina. But this book is much more than a greatest hits of bad winds: it is a subtle and elegant delineation of wind per se, where a breeze has as much dignity, authority, and fascination as a tempest. The wind will never be the same for readers after finishing this book, its presence now heightened and explicated. DeBlieu has achieved the Big Two: enlightenment and high entertainment.