Waiting For The Winds

An excerpted piece from A Beautiful Resistance: The Crossing

Any person can hear the voices of the winds easily. It gets in your ears, murmuring and whistling. But to know what is said? That’s a very different consideration.

From Nimue Brown

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I was raised upon these hills,
My bones are made of limestone,
Sweet Jurassic limestone
Grown from ancient seas.
I was raised upon these hills,
My body made of fossils,
Where the Cotswolds meet the Severn,
And the Severn seeks the sea.

Let me sing you a love song of this landscape, of the sharp Cotswold edge, thick with beech trees, rising up from the flood plain. Here the Severn River flows, oozes, meanders and marauds her way one season to the next, one tide to the next. Curlews by the hundreds, oystercatchers and seagulls frequent her seaweed-strewn shore. Beyond her banks lie the mysterious wooded hills of the Forest of Dean, where the wild boar wander. This landscape is in my body, in my blood, and in my soul.

In this part of the world, there are two days in each year when the east wind meets with the west wind and they talk for a while. One of them—the one who has ruled the Cotswold edge since their last conversation, goes home at the end of the meeting. It is clearly not a fight for dominance, but a longstanding agreement, acted out year on year. Of course, what they say to each other must vary considerably, although I have never heard anyone claiming to know what has been said.

I grew up in this land, learning its folklore and habits from my grandmother. Here we live amongst ancient barrows, Iron Age hill forts, ruins of mills. We inhabit the stories in the soil—at Hetty Peggler’s Tump, at Woeful Dane’s Bottom, nymphs-field, hares-field and more. I grew up unable to imagine a geography that was not alive with story, history and magic.

I first learned about the twice-yearly meetings of the winds from a Dursley woman who told me during a long bus ride into Gloucester that she had seen them up on Drakestone Point. It’s a high place overlooking the river, a site of Stone Age settlement. She saw two giant, swirling forms of men, deep in argument, hurling bits of tree at each other. That was the year Gloucester and Tewkesbury flooded so badly. What could the winds argue over? They can own nothing, need nothing. Does the west wind envy the biting teeth of the east wind as it comes out of Russia with swans riding on its shoulders? Does the east wind resent the easy, moist warmth blowing in from the Atlantic? Was it simply that they’d ended up in Dursley, a place clouds come to vent their anger on a regular basis?

It turns out there are many such tales, old and new, of seeing the wind. It is appropriate perhaps that the ones I’m sharing came to me on the air of tales told, and now I’m blowing these thoughts towards your ears.

The man from Coaley who talked to me late one night under a full moon saw them one autumn day at the Nympsfield barrow and had a different kind of tale to tell me. He said it was one of those strange days when mist rolls up the Severn, turning the vale into a kind of seascape, with fog waves breaking on the newly discovered Cotswold coast. A dream of ocean given form. The east and west winds came softly towards him, hazy figures of water drops, meeting, merging, pulling apart. They spent a whole afternoon in this curious dance of closeness, separation, return. As the setting sun turned the fog sea into gold, the west wind headed towards the last glow of day, and the east wind bent down from the hillside and blew the wreathes of mist away, turning the uncanny ocean back into the familiar sight of the silvery river, blowing in the first cold notes of winter.

I was raised beside the river,
Washed through by her waters,
Waters drawn through limestone
That fell as ancient rain.
I was raised beside the river,
Her tides are always calling,
Where the Cotswolds meet the Severn,
And the Severn seeks the sea.

For a long time I had a theory that when the winds meet, they tell each other stories: tales they have heard, things they have witnessed. There may be a competitive angle to it, each aiming to tell the best tale. Perhaps sometimes one wind hates a story the other has found, and this is why they get cross with each other on occasion. It was a safe story from a safer time, this. I’ve watched the winds grow fiercer year on year, watched the storms come and the weather shift. If the winds are angry, then we have made them so. Still, when I can’t sleep at night, I listen to the wind in the trees outside my home and I try to guess the sort of story it might be telling.

Friends of mine saw the winds one spring up on Selsley in the first warm days of the year. They were laughing together and playing with the long grasses, lifting skylarks in their hands and raising them into the heavens, bird song pouring down all the while like champagne. It was a bright day, and they were beings of sparkling brilliance. Two giant women, full of delight and light.

I don’t think the winds really have genders. I don’t think they look like humans, it’s just that we see them with our ancient ape faces and we make what sense of them we can. What sort of people they seem to be may say more about us than it does about the winds themselves. But what they do—there’s a truth to it and one that will shape the remaining wind’s mood until their next meeting. Whether they part warmly or in anger speaks of the weather to come—and perhaps more than the weather. We may like to pretend that our sophisticated, urban lives aren’t influenced by such elemental things, but when the east wind is bitter and resentful all winter, I start seeing that same look in other people’s eyes, as well.

I was raised beneath the beeches,
Their nuts my food in autumn,
Spring bright leaves my happiness
In summer gave me shade.
I was raised beneath the beeches,
Along the plunging hill line
Where the Cotswolds meet the Severn,
And the Severn seeks the sea.

There were a few days in early March this year when the air was unseasonably warm. I had a feeling the winds would be meeting early to talk. I’d spent such a long time hoping to see them, ever since I heard about their manifesting. This had been my year, but it had not been straightforward. I found the winds up on Swift’s Hill, quite by accident. I’d gone up there a little after dawn, just for the pleasure of the view and the quiet. They were glittering with heavy dew and playing with the feathers of some dead bird. From what other people have told me, they pay no attention to humans, so I just kept a respectful distance and tried to be calm in my awe at finally seeing them. They seemed thoughtful, even while they spiralled feathers skywards and watched them tumble down, almost as though the feathers were some ancient system of divination. Who’s to say? I had a feeling that a slow, careful sort of conversation was taking place.

Any person can hear the voices of the winds easily. It gets in your ears, murmuring and whistling. But to know what is said? That’s a very different consideration. I do not know how to hear the wind that well. But I do know it was an early meeting, and that the snowdrops were early this year too. I know that last year turned out to be the hottest on record. While the winds carry summer and winter on their backs, they aren’t Gods. They do not make the rules that turn the seasons, they just dance around the two poles of the equinoxes. Or at least, they used to.

I watched the pair of them part, and to me it looked hesitant and regretful; the parting of people who are aware that they might not meet again, or who fear the circumstances in which they may next greet each other. How hot a summer will it be? If the Gulf Stream changes its mind, where will the east and west winds tryst come autumn?

I watched the east wind gather herself up and leave, taking the winter with her. After that, the west wind didn’t seem to know what to do with himself. We both stayed on the hill for a while: me the overwhelmed, wide-eyed human, him an uneasy wind who tried, I feel sure, to communicate something to me—something my ears could hear but not turn into sense. It was a warning, perhaps, or a cry for help that came to me on Swift’s Hill that morning. I’m sure I’m not the only person the winds are trying to speak to.

I will look for the winds as the autumn comes, of course. I will watch along the hill line and listen to human voices for tales of their presence. I will keep trying to understand. Perhaps we still have time to tune our ears, learn their language, and find out what they want us to hear. Perhaps we already know, if we care to think about it. Perhaps it is we who have the answers they need.

I was raised by wild swans,
Who fly here every winter,
Lifted by their wing beats
And guided by the stars.
I was raised by wild swans,
To wait the east wind’s turning,
Where the Cotswolds meet the Severn,
And the Severn seeks the sea.

Nimue Brown

Nimue Brown lives on the Cotswold edge above the Severn River. She is a Druid, dreamer, author, and steampunk womble.


This piece, and many other fantastic works from four continents, appears in the fourth issue of the Gods&Radicals journal, A Beautiful Resistance.

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