I want a windsock– a nice new one, bright orange that can be seen from miles away, with trusty ball bearings that are quiet and free as– you guessed it, free as the wind. But please, as kind as both you and I know you are, don’t go rushing to Amazon to get me one. Let me tell you why.
Wind is invisible to the human eye, but we know it is there because we can see and measure its effects. It can be still and quiet, enfolding us peacefully, or in its extreme it can carry us away and violently transport us to Oz. It is especially important to pilots, because it is the very medium through which airplanes fly. It is the sin qua non avion, the thing without which there would be no flying.
Wind is merely the shifting of the atmosphere, caused by the unequal heating of the earth’s surface. Heat rises from the earth, and the heat that rises changes the temperature of the atmosphere, which in turn changes the pressure of the air. Lower pressure air yields to higher pressure air, and that is the wind. There are, of course, more subtleties, such as Coriolis force, friction at the earth’s surface, and jet streams, but the shifting of air masses due to pressure differences accounts for the vast majority of what we call wind.
In our primary training, we learn to “read the wind.” We are taught to look for the movements of tree limbs, flags on flagpoles, and whitecaps on the water. We learn about the wind-reading instrument located on our posterior side below the back and above the legs, which in my family was referred to by its technical name, the “tush”. And the devices located at airports designed specifically for the sole purpose of revealing the wind’s secrets, such as the tetrahedron or the omnipresent heretofore-mentioned orange windsock.
Reading a windsock is not as simple as looking at the direction it is pointing and how far it is sticking out. Those are key elements, but are much less important than looking for the things that may truly be “gotchas”. Besides merely direction and velocity, the windsock will tell you the variability in direction, the stability of the velocity, and the character of gusts. Friendly gusts will come at you from a single direction and drop off slowly. Nasty gusts that are intent on ruining your day will suddenly snap the windsock to attention and then just as quickly cause the sock to lose its erection—never a good thing. Even nastier gusts cause the windsock to dance like a white person, frenetically in all directions, revealing turbulence close to the ground or perhaps even the presence of the invisible pilot nemesis, Morris Microburst.
Our moods and the moods of those around us are like the winds that surround us in that they are invisible to the human eye but certainly there. With no convenient windsock to tell us which direction those winds are blowing, we sometimes are left with having to wing it and go alone. If we are fortunate enough to be in an intimate relationship, sometimes we learn to read our partner’s moods by the crinkling of the forehead, or the sudden brisk, snappy retort. But reading our own feelings can be more challenging. When my partner asks me what I am feeling, the only feeling I am immediately aware of is annoyance at being asked what I am feeling. That is because, despite my years of reading feelings in others as a psychologist, and even tuning into my own within the context of a therapy relationship, outside of the therapy room I spend most of my time in my head. I am too busy figuring out how to fix the refrigerator to label the fact that I am angry enough to kill it, and I am not convinced that labeling that feeling will help me to find the right nozzle for my air compressor.
My own best emotional windsock is the physical cues my body reveals. Years ago, during a particularly “interesting discussion,” my partner accused me of wanting to leave the room. I asked her why on earth she would think such a thing, and she pointed out that for the last five minutes I was straddling the threshold of the room; I literally had one foot out the door. Busted.
Of course these are things I should know on my own. Do I have a knot in my stomach that might reveal anxiety or fear, or perhaps tension in my face or a shortness in my breathing? Truth be known, there is a point at which labeling the nature of the wind is helpful and eminently important in effectively managing it. Knowing I am angry calls for different reactions than knowing I am grieving, just as knowing I have a 15 mile an hour variably gusty wind 15 degrees off the runway calls for a different landing technique than a steady wind on my nose.
That is why I can always use a nice, new windsock, and why you can’t buy me one.