January 14, 2006
wind and elevation
I've never thought much about the noise made by wind, probably because I tuned it out as being uninteresting. But right now I'm surrounded by the sounds of 50 mile-an-hour tropical winds, and I'm just captivated by their contrast to what I'm used to hearing, and by my inability to describe the difference. We just think of the sound of wind being the sound of wind, but there's a lot more to it than that. Think of cold winds and you'll think of more of a nasal, higher-pitched sound. Warmer winds seem to have a "fuller body" if that makes sense. That might be because trees differ with the weather. Typically, cold winds blow when trees are devoid of leaves, which forces the wind to "whistle" more than when the leaves act as dampeners. (Obviously, things like a lack of trees or the presence of ice make for very different wind sounds too, but I'm damned if I can spell them out.)
My Nassau hotel is surrounded by tall palm trees which bend dramatically in the wind, and appear quite used to taking a beating. The sound they make is, now that I think about it, very "characteristic." Yet as I say that I realize that I cannot define what I mean by "characteristic"; only that I've been listening long anough that I now know the sound, which is very different from the sound trees make in the Philadelphia area -- even in summer. The long, tapering blades of the palm fronds make a very distinctive whooshing noise as they bend in the wind's path.
But what the hell is so "characteristic" about this "whooshing noise," and how is it different from the sound the trees make where I come from? I cannot put it in words, and more than I can put into words other things I can clearly sense. Once I was in an elevator going up, and a group of people got on, with looks on their faces which suggested that they intended to go down. So sure was I that they wanted to go down (and were making a mistake) that I thought I should warn them, but I stopped myself, for I had no way to be sure that they wanted to go down and it wasn't my job to anticipate the needs of total strangers. Sure enough, as soon as the door closed and the elevator started going up, they groaned! So I was right, but I still can't describe precisely how people look when they get on an elevator expecting to go down. It was just something I could read on their faces, but I can't tell you how it looked.
Obviously noises made by wind in palm trees are as elusive as the facial expressions of people going the wrong way in an elevator.
And obviously (like so many of life's simplest things) I can't explain why.
Here's a view of the palms:
(I didn't photograph the people getting into the elevator.)
posted by Eric on 01.14.06 at 11:00 PM
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