by S.J. Dunning

Published in Issue No. 161 ~ October, 2010

“Whoever does anything to it will ruin it; whoever lays hold of it will lose it.
Therefore the sage, because he does nothing, never ruins anything; and, because he does not lay hold of anything, loses nothing.”

—Lao Tzu*

I can’t write, so my sister drives me and my dog toward the outskirts of the valley. Toward a plume of smoke jetting over the city’s trees we drive, hoping to photograph a house aflame. We drive with the windows down, the wind tugging our hair, my little dog alert, nose out the window, sneezing at the speed of the chase. But it is only a field burning, the fire’s smoky pall thinning as we near it.

My sister decelerates anyway. And I photograph two birds diving, sharp inkblots in the foreground of the haze—sudden, swooping, taunting. My dog raises her ears, tilts her little head back toward mine, soliciting, ready to run.

We don’t turn back. My sister pushes east, driving toward the Columbia River Gorge—deep wake of a deluge no one witnessed . I was privy to the depth of it once, as I remember—could hear modern fields humming an ancient, watery measure . Now, I am approaching the expanse inarticulate, the breadth of the flood’s etching seeming to mock a tapering within. This, too, mutes me—the latitude of the passenger seat, of no-house-on-fire.

“I want to take you there ,” my sister says, “I want you to see them up close.” She’s pointing toward the Wild Horse Wind Farm, toward the many white windmills scattered upon the rolling hills, little pinwheels anchored into the earth—and spinning—indifferent to the element that moves them. I have nowhere else to go , so I say yes, and she keeps driving.

My sister decelerates again and exits the highway onto the paved path leading to the top of the hill. Up close, the windmills look like planes, like cockpits and propellers stationed upon tall, white poles. My dog jumps from the dash to the window again and again as we draw closer, as we wind around them. I gently clasp her middle with both hands when she rests, her front paws upon the seam of the open window, her neck craning upward; I can feel her pulse through her ribs, racing.

Outside the wind farm’s Interpretive Center, one windmill blade is on display. I run my hands along the slope of the blade, pressing. I set my dog atop the blade. She sits, shivers. And then she clamors onto my shoulder, into my arms, her little legs moving fast as if to stay above deep water. It is a white whale’s fin; it is all the girth of the words I’ve been hunting.

Loose rocks shift beneath my feet. An autumn wind ripples through my sweater’s wide weave as I walk the length of the blade from its tip to its end, where I see that the blade is hollow. I want to crawl inside of it—I could sit upright inside of it—but its opening is caged by a strong, wire barrier. I squat down and peer through the crisscross of wire, trying to make something of the darkness . But I can’t see through it. I press my face closer, and I grip the wire with my fingers; I sing into the hollow of the white, earthbound propeller. My voice travels back in melodic waves, resonant. My dog paws at my knee, stands upright on her hind legs, jumps toward my lap.

Inside the Interpretive Center, it is quiet and cool. My sister and I whisper to each other, thumbing through brochures and booklets. I hold my dog tightly in my arms, shh-ing her when she growls at strangers coming and going through the swinging glass doors. The young man working answers my sister’s questions about energy and yield. Half -serious, I ask him if the wind farm is hiring. He gives me a business card , pats my dog on the head, and says it takes a special person to spend hours there with just the turbines humming. I don’t tell him that I suspect my soul a stow-away in one of the windmill’s cockpits, a wayward pilot who’s finally found her way home. “I am a writer,” I tell him. And I sign my name in the guest book like I meant to visit the wind farm, like I hadn’t been chasing something else.

My sister drives us back into the valley. The windmills shrink in the rearview mirror—white specks, hovering above the velvet hillside. My dog leaps from seat to seat, window to window, shaken by something so much larger than herself, by the wind’s thrust against her jowls.

We pass on old, rusty car for sale along the highway. My sister says, “I want to buy that old car, or maybe move to Greece.” I don’t ask her why. I ask her to stop for the black birds on the telephone pole, wavering in the wind. I kick off my shoes, jump out of the car, and run toward the scene with my camera in hand. The birds scatter. They are black beads, they are words, spilling over the edge of something. Measured by their negative space, I stand there, waiting for them to land.

*Wu Wei is a Taoist principle that refers to behavior in harmony with the Tao.

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S.J. Dunning is from the small town of Ellensburg, Washington. She received a B.A. in English from Western Washington University, and an M.A. in Literature from Central Washington University. She is currently working on her M.F.A. in Creative Writing at the University of Idaho. This essay is dedicated to her sister, Tyrah, and to her late dog, Biscuit, whose trip to the Wild Horse Wind Farm turned out to be her last big adventure.

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