Wind has always played a big part in my life. One of the things I most remember about my time spent up on the Colorado Plateau is the wind blowing almost all the time. If is hard to remember things like wind because they are so prevalent that you do no form an independent memory of any one event, unless the wind played a big part in some other memorable activity. Years after I left the Plateau, I remember going back for a trip and sitting outside as the sunset. I suddenly became aware of the wind noise and it brought back all the impressions of my years spent on the Plateau.
One time when we were driving from Holbrook south, we crossed the Little Colorado River where it flows in a shallow wash-like depression, not really a canyon. The road went straight down the bank on one side, across the low bridge and up the other side. We were driving pretty fast, as was usually the case, but as we came up the bank we came right into the wind. I remember it was like hitting a wall. The car almost came to a stop from the force of the wind.
One time after a funeral, we all drove up from the Valley and went directly to the cemetery for the burial. As we got out of the cars, we began walking around and suddenly we all sort-of looked at each other and said, "This is really strange." The wind wasn't blowing. After a few comments on the lack of wind, we continued with the graveside service, when suddenly, as if in answer to our observations, the wind came, blowing over all the flowers, and slamming all the car doors. It makes you think that the wind is an active participant in the life of the Plateau rather than just a natural phenomena.
When I think about listening to the wind, I realize that there are a lot of experiences in life that are, in a sense, in the background, like the wind blowing all time, they are taken for granted and not remembered. At the same time, these background experiences are what make up the reality of life. They fill in gaps between the time when events we consider significant occur. As I make a record of my life and the life of my ancestors as I can find it, most of what I write, nearly all actually, excludes the wind noise. There is little or nothing preserved of the day to day insignificant events that make up a life.
I sometimes speculate on the day to day life of my Great-grandparents. Living out on the Plateau, they had no running water, no air conditioning, no indoor plumbing, almost no communication with the outside world, no electricity. Their days had the common background of finding firewood, cleaning the wood stove, lighting the stove, boiling water, hauling water, finding more wood, taking care of animals, feeding a large family, riding miles and miles on horseback, cultivating rock hard ground with few tools and nothing but horses or oxen to pull the plough. But these are things that I can only imagine, they are the background of life that didn't get recorded.
So how can I listen to the wind that blew for my ancestors? Fortunately, even though my own ancestors did not leave a written record of their day to day life, we have a few people in the same communities that did leave a record. Fortunately, I found the records preserved in the Cline Library Special Collections and Archives of the Northern Arizona University. The Library has the Colorado Plateau Archives consisting of 37,220 items. Included in their collection was a journal of one of my Great-grandfather's closets friends. His day-by-day account helps me to listen to the wind.
Where can you go to listen to the wind? Have you looked at archives near where your ancestors lived to see if there are journals or other documents that can fill in the background lacking from your own ancestors' accounts? Why not take a look.