the winds that whispered woe
ART BY KATIE KOSTAK
For as long as I’ve known, the winds have ruefully whispered the cruelty of nature’s brutality. Regrettably, I never listened to them until now.
I used to find solace in the birds. There was something so breathtaking about their pure whimsy. I remember a cluster of toothless beaks, blackbirds, and the way their voices woke me up every morning. The breeze waltzed inside, light on its feet and so gentle I might easily miss it, for the birds were finally chirping a melody so delightful I could not help but dance.
When I was young, the blue jay entranced me. In our backyard forest of blackbirds there was only one blue jay, flying starkly against the night. The winds, barely perceptible, would rustle through the leaves as the blue jay and I exchanged unspoken words in the serene moonlight. The blackbirds of my forest were too sophisticated for the safflower seeds littering the floor––shelled seeds that would cut my feet and attract the squirrels which I sourly despised. No matter how hard I tried to tiptoe slowly around the forest, I always walked out with the jagged cuts of my shortcomings. The squirrels taunted me, eyeing me down haughtily––a visual reminder of my incompetence; and faithfully, every morning, the blue jay would save me, lifting the hard-shelled seeds of my nightmares off the ground.
Of course, I’d grow up and learn more about humankind. But it was that blue jay in my backyard who cleaned up the safflower seeds that were always puncturing the thin soles of my feet: that was my first true friend.
In a meadow of dandelions and honey bees basking in the morning sun, I bloomed. The chirps I relished in my youth had morphed into the screaming winds I desperately tried to block out, until one day, the winds grew quiet and all I could hear was the symphony of silence. I spent my days dancing to the songs the same way I used to as the seasons changed. My music shifted, and I was left filling my days with other ventures as the winds howled in my periphery.
It was the first season our tree had given us apples. The sharp crunch, the tart sweetness––I had to stock up. Of course I had to stock up! It had been years since I had tried climbing a tree, but for this occasion it was as though the sun had melted my fear. I went up and down, up and down, up and down, until––
I saw it. A nest of eggs, a blue jay amidst the center. A baby blue eye, placid, in a hurricane of blackbirds. A draft skimmed by, a gentle cadence to the moment, nature’s soft lullaby. As the sun shined, the apples fell, and the blue jay of my childhood huddled her feathers around her nest of eggs. The warmth of the sun washed over me, as if I had been shivering just moments before.
Months later, as spring settled into herself, I once again began my mornings dancing to that blend of voices. The winds whispered over my shoulder as I munched the sweet, sweet honeycrisps. I would watch the nest from afar. While I slept, I could almost hear the blue jay snacking on safflower seeds, a small gesture I had grown so accustomed to.
We were due for a storm––it happened every year, but nothing quite like this one. I remember hiding under a blanket, praying for peace as I listened to the winds howl, the pellets of downpour, trees falling and screeches of pain I had never heard before. I didn’t leave home. The next morning, I was too afraid to rummage through the ruins I witnessed go down the night before. The day after, the sun had returned, already trying to wash away the chaos of the night before.
The second I left I stepped on a safflower seed, cutting my foot. Still, I trekked through.
I saw a cluster of squirrels at the bottom of the tree, and I knew something was wrong. Cracks of eggshells littered the ground, a tree branch striking the forest floor. I could not will myself to step a foot closer.
The winds were quiet––almost too quiet to hear, but I knew better. I could feel their taunts mocking my naiveté. They screamed at me to listen, and I cowered away in fear. When they whispered the truth of what was to come, my stomach sank, and I searched high and low, left and right, but there was no blue bird to be found. All I could think about was how nature had betrayed me––treating me to apples and deep golden light, only to wash it away in a single night.
The next spring came and the apples lined the tree, but as the squirrels scaled the branches, I could only watch from afar, willing myself to deter them but instead mourning the sweetness that had too quickly given way to bitter truth.
And like clockwork, as every season, the birds would sing, the flowers would bloom, everyone would dance, and yet––all I could hear were the rueful whispers of the winds.