In the fall here we get these legendary wind storms. They’re called the Santa Anas or, at times, the Satanás—from the Spanish vientos de Satán, “the winds of Satan.” Journalist Joan Didion wrote of them,
Los Angeles weather is the weather of catastrophe, of apocalypse, and, just as the reliably long and bitter winters of New England determine the way life is lived there, so the violence and the unpredictability of the Santa Anas affect the entire quality of life in Los Angeles, accentuate its impermanence, its unreliability. The wind shows us how close to the edge we are.
And Raymond Chandler called them,
Those hot dry winds that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch.
But they’re not always hot and dry and when we were kids we thought they were greatest thing next to being allowed to jump on the trampoline at night—and maybe if we jumped high enough we’d be blown away. It wasn’t till we got older we learned how dangerous they were. Dangerous and beautiful.
While the winds are often credited with the largest and deadliest wildfires in this area, they’re also responsible for providing us Angelinos with the first few crystal clear days of winter after the haze and smogginess of the long, dull summer months.
I experienced this first hand last fall when I promised my cousin to drop her off for her first day of work at Starbucks—at 5:00 am.
I’d been up all night writing and was ansty—on the verge of a plot twist—and jittery from the caffeine. So by the time Jenny called I was glad for the reprieve.
It was still dark when I left the house, but the air smelled fresh and alive, another sort of reprieve. It had been a muggy, gray-skyed week and a long, stormy night.
But the sun rises fast in the winter, and by the time I had dropped her off in Old Town I no longer needed my headlights.
On a windy day everything seems a little out of place, trees you never noticed take on new life, birds (and trash bins and that sweatshirt you accidentally left outside) all disappear, the sidewalks are all swept clean. Leaves dance like a marionette in the breeze. Even driving feels different, and as I was coming around a bend above the Colorado Street Bridge I could feel the pressure of the wind against my car, pushing it towards the right lane. So I pulled to the side of the road, stopped the car, and rolled down all my windows. The energy or the air was palpable. I stretched my arms to the side and felt it rush through my fingers.
Then I looked, and saw—not through the glass, but through the open air—the mountains.
It was like hearing the first few notes of an incredible melody, feeling the first sparks of a new love. The thrilled of life, of birth. I felt like I could see for the first time the mountains I’d grown up in the shadow of, the whole glorious range aglow in the morning sun—all the way to snow-capped Mount Baldy, hundreds of miles away.
All the dangerous beauty . . .
I’ve had my share of storms in the past few weeks. A failed friendship, financial difficulties, my father’s cancer diagnosis, the finally letting go of someone I cared deeply about. Dreams forsaken, heartbroken, hope deferred.
But I’m pursued by that reminder—that storms, once past, bring clarity.
Though for now the darkness is thick surrounding, not far off is the clear and coming light of dawn.