Friday 8 July 2011

An Ill Wind

A storm over Kunanyi/Mt Wellington 

Oh, and the night, the night – when the wind full of emptiness feeds on our features. – Rainer Maria Rilke

I live a whisper short of 43 degrees latitude south, although the mild weather belies that fact. In Vladivostok or Toronto, two of Hobart’s northern hemisphere latitudinal equivalents, average winter maximums are below zero, and snow is a part of daily life.

Here snow is a part of daily life perhaps once a decade. The difference is down to our proximity to the sea, which has a strong moderating influence on temperatures. The trade-off for that protection is our exposure to the Roaring Forties. That band of winds gushes around the southern parts of the globe, interrupted only by Tasmania, New Zealand’s South Island, and South America.

For the past week, it has roared with singular ferocity. Our protective weather angels, those plump highs that process across the island, have fled north, leaving us at the mercy of winds hurtling up from the Antarctic south. If King and Flinders Islands were spinnakers, and the rest of Tasmania a vessel, we would long ago have fetched up on the shores of Aotearoa!

Wild winter weather above the Du Cane Range, Central Tasmania 

And I’m not sure they’d have been surprised. In Maori mythology, Tawhirimatea is the rather fierce god of weather. After a dispute with his brothers over their role in separating his parents, Tawhirimatea vowed to bring havoc to his brothers' lives and that of their children. On occasions he is persuaded by his parents to be forgiving, and the weather is calm. At other times he remembers his vow and sends tornadoes, hurricanes, and cyclones.

Two nights out of the last six, Tawhirimatea has been very grumpy indeed. On both occasions I have lain in bed waiting for the roof to lift. Whistling and wailing; thumping and rattling, groaning and grinding, the house has voiced its timorous resistance to the wild weather god.

With winds reaching Storm Force 10 on the old Beaufort Scale, Beaufort would have warned us to expect that “trees are broken off or uprooted, saplings bent and deformed. Poorly attached asphalt shingles and shingles in poor condition peel off roofs.”

On this morning’s walk, while finding precious few fallen shingles, I did have to walk around a number of ravaged trees, including a massive bunya pine branch. It must surely have wondered why it was ever transported here from Queensland.

I assume Beaufort wasn’t a bird man, or else he might have added a few notes about the wind’s effects on our avifauna. At 2:30 this morning I heard a number of clinking currawongs flying over, in complete darkness, giving voice to their disgruntlement. They were presumably in search of somewhere safer to roost.

And then there was the gull I saw later in the morning. By 8am the wind had backed off to a dull roar, though I was still getting its assistance as I walked unusually swiftly to work. At one point I noticed I was matching speed with a silver gull. This might have been commendable but for the fact that it was actually flying in the opposite direction. A colony of gulls lives under the Tasman Bridge, and each morning the group flies upstream to plunder the riches  of McRobeys Gully Tip.

The Hobart Rivulet on a winter's morning 

Every time this particular silver gull flapped or veered, the opposing wind would hoosh it backwards. It hunted the full width of the valley searching for a break from the headwind. The last time I saw it, it was still being blown backwards. I’d have been tempted to give up and go back to bed.

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