Bopha Chhay | Excerpt from “60 Notes of the Nor’wester’s Whistle”

It is not possible to exist on the margins of the weather.

I grew up in a city that remains under the enduring presence of Big Weather. Mention of its impending arrival took on a familiar tone that is not dissimilar to the way one might fondly refer to a distant relative soon coming to visit.

Growing up in Te Whangunui-a-Tara, Aotearoa (Wellington, New Zealand)—an archipelago consisting of three main islands—nautical figures of speech were common.

Weather can shape the language of place.

The primary school I attended was located a 1.5 kilometre walk down the hill from our house. Our walk home was always dictated by the strength and direction of the wind and we had to best gauge the safest route home. In the case of a Northerly, we’d walk up the eastern side of the hill; in the case of a Southerly, we’d opt for the western side. If either exceeded a galeforce of 120 kmph, we’d take the lower footpath. We learned how to make use of the roadside railing, linking arms to anchor each other, leaning into, or against, the wind so as not to lose our footing.

Occasionally, we’d defy parental instruction and intentionally choose the least safe route. In an attempt to become airborne, we’d leap into the wind, our jackets acting as a pair of wings. It was not until I moved away that I realized people who did not live where I grew up had a very different relationship to Big Weather.

People did not share my belief or resignation that we’d one day get blown off the hill and into the sea.

Bopha Chhay’s “60 Knots of the Nor’wester’s Whistle” is excerpted from Issue 3.45: Weather (Fall 2021).  Order the issue or subscribe today to receive this issue plus two more delivered to your door.

 

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