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The Wind That Shakes The Barley


Time for something experimental . . .

There was once a mad wind, who beat on a barley stem for being gay.

Why are you doing this? the stem asked. Why are you blowing so angrily, Wind? Have I done something to offend you?

I don’t like you, Stem, howled the wind. You and all barley stems like you have shown disrespect to me and my kindred winds. We huff and blow, as we should, ordained by the forces of nature, but all you do is dance gaily on the spot, making fools out of us. You bend and bounce back, toying with our pride.

What do you expect us to do? replied the barley stem. Break to your touch? If we did, if we broke in half and fell away and all that was left on Earth were stones and fossils, how would your presence be visible? How would you measure your tempestuous existence if everything you touched fell apart?

The wind blew furiously, unwilling to answer the question, and in the process the barley stem snapped and fell to the ground.

The wind laughed loudly.

Not so sure of yourself now, are you? he roared.

He hovered over the fallen stem, spinning with glee, then gusted away, content that he had been acknowledged and respected.

Yet as he made his way across the land, in the direction whence he had come, the words of the stem echoed all around.

How would you measure your tempestuous existence if everything you touched fell apart?

The wind paused and looked around. Nothing moved. Nothing at all stirred, not even a flicker. Everything had been swept clean on his last pass, when he’d roared and raged his way through the area – the sand, the leaves, the rainclouds and the mist, everything was gone – and his sight fell upon a bare landscape, and so did his might, beating on a desolate landscape of hard rock and mineral.

Howling in distress, he heard the barley stem shout out to him.

Respected but all alone, are we, with nothing to show for ourselves?

The wind gusted back to the stem, imagining himself uprooting trees and moving rocks and mountains.

Are you mocking me? he raged, blustering above the broken little stem.

The stem laughed.

Why would I be mocking a lonely, invisible wind who can’t see himself unless the shadow of some other object moves in its wake?

The wind roared and raged at the insolent remark. He blew the barley stem hither and dither, beating it on the sharp rocks and minerals.

Not so mouthy now are you? he growled.

Maybe not, replied the stem, battered and frayed, but why should I be? You’ve blown me around so hard that you’ve spread my seeds to the four corners of the world. You’ve made sure I’ll live on. Thank you.

And with that the barley stem closed his eyes and never spoke again. He laid there, withering away, content with the notion he would live on via the next generations.

The wind, humiliated and furious, blew and blustered for days and weeks, beating the withered barley stem around until he pulverized it. It took an awful effort. The stem was more durable than it looked. Without rain to soften it down, it withstood the wind’s beatings. But no rain had come, the sky as bare as the ground. So the wind blew and blustered, thrashing the stem into shavings and splinters, into dust, and by the time the stem had disintegrated and no part of it was visible, the surrounding land was full of saplings and stems, pesky little creatures dancing gaily in the wind’s wake. The harder the wind blew the gayer they’d get. Some of them broke and fell away, and he carried them to the ends of Earth so as never to see them again, but he soon realized that the place was filled with barley stems so thick in numbers, so dense in arrangement, he could no longer uproot them. He could only make them dance, and in their moving patterns he saw himself for the first time in a long while, a series of mighty waves passing over the sheets of stems, turning them shiny and dark and shiny again.

It was no good to get mad. The stem had been right. It had served no purpose.

He calmed down and let the stems be, accepting their presence in the world, for without them he couldn’t see himself and with too many of them around he was choking. He went about his business and the stems went about theirs, and the men and women came out of their homes and reaped the harvests, and planted new seeds, the clouds returned and rained on the land, and everyone had food to eat and water to drink, and the animals had grain to chew on, and the trees blossomed and the world shook in the gusts of time, making the wind feel like himself again.

From the bays of Pearl Coast,

Fish a ton of oysters, strike a shiny pearl.