The Zen of Perfect Stillness by
(168 Stories)

Prompted By Silence

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I lived in Colorado for two winters. We referred to “winters” rather than years because the months from September to May often carried winter weather. Ward, the old mining town I lived in lay in a canyon close to the Continental Divide. The mountain peaks above us topped out at about 14,000 feet. At times, the jet stream would flow close to the Continental Divide’s peaks, creating a narrow opening between mountaintops and the jet stream above.

We lay in bed, listening to the wind scream around the sturdy little cabin

Occasionally, massive airflows moved in from the northwest, propelled across Canada from Alaska. When these tides of dense air reached the Divide, they would squeeze between the peaks below and the jet stream above, a fluid compression known as the Venturi effect. In the same way a river speeds up when it is funneled between boulders and rapids, these Alaskan masses would accelerate…precipitously.

Down in town, we would feel the wind pick up, first in gusts. By afternoon, the gusts had increased in force and frequency, causing the town’s denizens to glance at each other warily. We knew the gusts were harbingers of what was to come. By evening, as the air cooled and became denser, the gusts would merge into a steady flow.

The town would begin to shriek as the cold air hugged the landscape and flowed downhill. It whipped around building corners and cornices. Any fallen snow would be blown before the onslaught, stripping the ground bare. No one ever had to sweep the streets or their porches during a jet stream event. The wind blew everything down the canyon.

By nightfall, the wind speed would increase from 60 to 80 miles per hour. Gusts would reach 100 mph. These banshees would hit our little cabin and lift the windward side of the cabin off its foundation. Blow, lift, clunk back down. We lay in bed, listening to the wind scream around the sturdy little cabin, punctuated by blows, lifts, and clunks.

Morning would bring no respite. The kids couldn’t make it up the hill to the school bus stop. The wind was too ferocious. I would either drive them to school or they would stay home. The wind continued, unabated. It was nearly impossible to do any work. For a short time, I worked in an abandoned silver mine (see “Can’t Bust ‘Ems) that offered an unobstructed view of the continental divide and an unobstructed target for the wind.

At one point, I looked up at the mineshaft headframe to see my pal Eddy strapped to the structure. The chainsaw he was using was tied to the headframe with the wind blowing the heavy Stihl chainsaw out horizontal on the end of its tether.

After a day and a night and another day, the wind would begin to get on our nerves. It would tighten our necks and the back of our heads. We began to grimace and grind our teeth. Conversations turned clipped and snarly. The wind didn’t give a damn. Its faceless persistence reduced us to helpless jitters. We had no choice but to ride it out.

A second night of wind could howl down the chimney, scattering sparks onto the floor from the wood cooking stove or the big coal heater. No sleep for me. The fear of fire held our attention hostage. By the third day, the ceaseless nature of the rise and fall, punctuated by stupendous gusts became a monstrous adversary. But there was no fighting that wind. Madness flew through the town like a windblown bat.

Then, one morning, it might take a moment, a minute, an hour to realize…the wind had stopped. Silence.

The little town sat back down on its hillside. Nothing moved. The sky shone bright blue and placid in the cold, dense silence. The back of the skull relaxed. Shoulders dropped. Jaws relaxed. People shouted to one another as they emerged from their shelters. It felt as if the enemy had stopped shelling us and had withdrawn.

Now, I recall that silence, that sudden peace, and I strive to embrace that immobility in my meditation or anytime I need the world to stop spinning. Silence. Tranquility. The Zen of perfect stillness.

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Profile photo of Charles Degelman Charles Degelman
Writer, editor, and educator based in Los Angeles. He's also played a lot of music. Degelman teaches writing at California State University, Los Angeles. 

Degelman lives in the hills of Hollywood with his companion on the road of life, four cats, assorted dogs, and a coterie of communard brothers and sisters.

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Characterizations: well written


  1. Thanx Chas for introducing me to a part of the world I don’t know.
    Years ago I spent a summer in Denver when a flood after a rainstorm had cars floating in the street – but nothing like a jet stream!

    • Charles says:

      The freaky jetstream winds that swept through our little mountain town blew over us with such force that they did not descend from 14,000+ feet until they hit the Colorado plains around Denver. They hit the flatlands with such force, they destroyed whole trailer parks the way a tornado might.

  2. Khati Hendry says:

    Masterful telling of the story, and I could feel the relief when the wind stopped. I didn’t realize the high Rockies had those weather events. We get winds off the lakes here that sometimes shake the houses–our home weather station seems to top out at about 65 km/hour–impressive, but not as intense as you describe. Harsh beauty indeed, and a reason to be thankful for the respite.

    • Charles says:

      Thanks, Khati. It remains firmly in my sense memory and draw upon that feeling, when the wind stops. All is still and, as I wrote, it takes time to realize that the buffetng has stopped. That memory can actually help me focus at the beginning of a meditation or when I just need to calm down from external-world overload… like finding out we now live in a monarchy.

  3. Wish I could meditate as you do Chas, I’m feeling lots of external -world -overload lately.

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