“I have seen many storms in my life. Most storms have caught me by surprise, so I had to learn very quickly to look further and understand that I am not capable of controlling the weather, to exercise the art of patience and to respect the fury of nature.” Paulo Coelho
Apologies for bringing up the ‘W’ word again, but we’ve just experienced the worst winds here that we’ve ever known – how often have I written that?! This time, it wasn’t the ‘normal’ katabatic wind blowing straight down the mountain, but from a different angle and was like being in some alternative reality where you can’t actually believe that something so powerful could exist. I’ve written about the strong winds here on many occasions, but this one was in a league of its own. The magnitude and fury of it all took us both by surprise; we who are so used to raw nature here at 850m altitude.
Earlier in the afternoon as the storm got into its stride, it felt as though I took my life in my hands just by venturing upstairs to clear the main bedroom of any potential flotsam and jetsam, grabbing anything of vague import to take to the comparative safety of downstairs. It was fortuitous that Joe had, some weeks back, had the foresight to temporarily board up the larger bedroom window with an old door.
I could feel the icy fingers of complete panic start to constrict around my heart, I felt very sick and the hairs on the back of my neck prickled. I had to take control of myself, because there was nowhere to run to, nothing that we could do. As the afternoon and evening progressed without respite, sleep was obviously out of the question. And it was bloody cold; something like -6 deg c including wind chill.
“Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.” Thich Nhat Hanh
As I lay on the swaying sofabed downstairs with house vibrating and shuddering, I started to put into practice what I’d so far learned about mindfulness. I did my best to concentrate on breathing and not project about what the myriad of ‘what if’s’. I began counting my breaths in blocks of 10’s and continued this for hour upon hour. Somehow I managed to find a place of relative calm and there I stayed. I think that Joe must have been doing likewise. He said later that he pushed his earplugs in so far that they hurt his ears, but they did little to muffle the sound.
It was strangely reassuring to see the light of day. New noises and sensations had come into play due to the severity of the wind; so far nothing had come crashing about our ears. But the wind hadn’t finished with us yet. Horizontal debris – twigs, earth, stones, leaves flew past at an alarming rate, shot blasting the cars. It was like hitting a patch of turbulence in an aeroplane; things fell off shelves and cups of coffee wobbled uncertainly. Even with the sun streaming through the windows the thermometer barely made 40 deg f inside the house. It was pointless lighting the wood burner as the wind would have knocked out the flames. So we concentrated on drinking coffee, eating and watching something absorbing on Netflix.
Still the storm raged on. The toilet wouldn’t flush; had the pipe from the depositos to the house burst? It was too dangerous for Joe to go up there and investigate, but as it transpired later, it was due to the water in the pipe freezing solid. He did venture out at some stage to just check around the house, and came back incredulous that our little wooden home was still standing and still had all its tiles on the roof. While he was outside, hanging on for dear life, he watched a whole row of tiles lift up simultaneously like a wave and then crash down again, something that we’d got used to hearing happen from the inside since the storm began.
We eventually lit the wood burner which looked cheerful and kept the kettle warm but until the wind subsided a bit more it had little impact on heating the room. I did my best to find an accurate weather forecast but couldn’t make any sense of any of them. They all said sunny, with wind strength between 8 km/h to 16 km/h – giving the impression that this was a typical calm, Mediterranean day. Only one forecast hinted that there was anything amiss – gusts of 54 km/h were mentioned but no amber alerts. When we had the last gales around Christmas 2013 the gusts were recorded at 123km/h (76 mph), but this surely had to be stronger.
It was mid afternoon before the wind died down, and it took a further few hours to stop completely. A quick check outside revealed that our upstairs verandah rail had been ripped off; a heavy iron cover had blown off the water filter box and landed near the house; the 6ft tall yucca had split in half and there was one very distressed looking agave! There were the usual casualties of snapped wooden stakes holding up the cypresses but, apart from those things, nothing out of place. In the aftermath, everywhere looked a bit shell-shocked, the trees bent over and stripped of much of their winter foliage.
“Mindfulness helps us freeze the frame so that we can become aware of our sensations and experiences as they are, without the distorting colouration of socially-conditioned responses or habitual reactions.” Henepola Gunaratana
I felt rather pleased with myself that I’d won a little victory over my usual default mode of panic as I’m basically a wimp at heart. Although I’m only in the early stages of mindfulness practice, in my desperation I had clung to what little I’d learned. I emerged from the experience with a stronger awareness of how the mind thinks it’s being helpful by presenting you with a list of wild imaginings about what could happen, stressing you unnecessarily.
But none of those things did happen, and I’m sure had any of them transpired, I think I might now have the tools to deal with it in a much calmer and clearer way. Winds of change indeed.