Theater Of the Mind

By , March 15, 2010

Thursday, the day we hiked to the knoll, we had a respite from the recent heavy weather. So much so that as evening came on, we discussed whether or not to have a movie. With lights and listening to the radio, our battery bank had drawn down to below our usual movie cutoff level. The weather forecast called for high winds after 9:00 p.m. We could have watched a movie and recharged the batteries later, but we each had a good book to read, so we decided to forego it.

As Aly and I sat on the couch reading, we each glanced now and then at the charge controller, to see if the wind had risen to charging level. Nothing happened until about 9:10 p.m., when, all of a sudden, we heard the wind hit. The charge lights popped on, rafts of snow blown off the trees smashed into the picture windows, and the wind generator began to roar as gusts caught it while it switched to furling. Worse still, “the hum” started.

Under certain conditions, the beach hums. It’s a strange, metallic, mechanical noise, a steady sort of grinding. When we first lived here, I thought one of the two wind generators made the noise in high winds. I still mistake it for the generator now and then. It’s an unsettling sound that creates low level tension. I don’t like it, especially after dark, when we can’t see what’s going on out there, but can only hear it.

Aly and I jumped up to put the brake on the wind generator. I stood in the Arctic entryway with a high powered flashlight, watching the prop, while Aly stood just inside the front door by the brake switch. We had the door open only a crack, so the cats wouldn’t go out on the porch; I needed the screen door open so the mesh wouldn’t bounce my flashlight beam back at me. We had a little trouble, because Michelle had gone to bed with a headache, so Aly was reluctant to call out loudly enough for me to hear her above the wind. This got our younger, nervous cat, Spice, agitated. While we worked, she ran back and forth between  Michelle and us, crying.

Shortly, we got it shut down, which reduced the noise a bit, but not for long. Plenty of new sounds replaced the ones we stopped. The wind buffeted the “pee tent” in the dooryard. The wood pile tarp flapped dolefully. The big tree right outside the porch, which has grown too close to the house, rocked, hitting the roof occasionally. A couple of times it thumped us hard enough to shake the whole cabin. The yard filled with suspicious clunking noises as containers shifted under the cabin.

The approaching high tide wouldn’t reach more than 14 feet, a fairly low level. Even so, the waves sounded as if they were surging up into the yard. The pitch black night offered no visual cues. Everything we “saw” was shaped by sound and magnified by our imaginations.

About the time I went to bed, the helicopter arrived.

Just days before, an extreme hiker had been rescued from Meade Glacier, on the other side of our “Mountain With No Name.” That several day search involved a lot of aircraft, particularly the big Coast Guard helicopter out of Sitka. It sounded like this same aircraft passing over in the darkness. The recent resolution of the glacier search made it even more disorienting in the night. They must have been searching for someone, because it passed back and forth overhead several times, although we never saw their searchlights. We didn’t go out to look, either.

We all slept soundly eventually. We are somewhat used to nights like this. I don’t think that night was particularly bad, but since it started so abruptly in the dark, when we could hear, but not see what was happening, it seemed worse than it was.

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