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The Wind That Shakes The Barley


Time for something experimental . . .

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

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

I despise you, Stem, howled the wind. You, and others like you, have shown disrespect to me and my kindred. 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 in mockery.

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 this 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 north wind spun with fury, unwilling to answer the question, and in the process the barley stem snapped and fell to the ground.

The wind howled.

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

He hovered over his victim, spinning with glee, then gusted away, content that he had been acknowledged and respected. Yet, as he made his way across the land, across mountains and valleys and oceans and plateaus, the impertinent words echoed around him.

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 – the sand, the leaves, the trees and vegetation, the rainclouds and the mist, the animals, even the rivers and oceans and great lakes, everything was gone, the planet left bare … a piece of rock and mineral floating in empty space.

The wind howled with indignation. He proceeded to lash and beat the earth, thrusting himself on the hard rock and mineral with the intent to wear it down and leave nothing but specks of dust.

Across the distance, on an orphan breeze that had yet to understand how the world worked, the barley stem’s voice came through:

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

The wind lashed out, gusting its way toward the source of the voice, swallowing the breeze in his wake, imagining himself uprooting trees and buildings, rocks and mountains on his way there. All he had now was its imagination – that, and the excitement of what he would do to the stem, how he would punish it for everything that had taken place.

Do not mock me, Stem! he howled, blustering its way across the world, seeking out his taunter.

Across the distance, as if carried on its own wings, came a tiny laughter.

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

The wind roared and spun, spreading across the globe, and located the stem in a dark canyon. It grabbed it by its puny body in a flurry and blew it across the world, thrashing it on the rocks and minerals.

Not so mouthy now, are you? the wind growled.

The stem laughed. Maybe not, it replied, 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 survive. Thank you.

And with that the barley stem closed its eyes and never spoke again. It lay withering, content with the notion it would live on through the next generations.

The wind, humiliated and furious, blew and blustered for weeks, thrashing the stem into shavings and splinters. It took great effort on his part. The puny little stick was more durable than it looked. Without rain to soften it down, it withstood the wind’s beatings. The sky as bare as the ground, no clouds in sight, no mist or moisture. The wind blew and blustered, beating the stem into snippets and dust, and by the time the stem had disintegrated and no part of it was visible, the surrounding land was full of saplings, pesky little creatures dancing gaily in the wind’s wake. The harder the wind blew the gayer they got. 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 stems so thick in numbers, so dense in arrangement, he could no longer uproot them. He could only make them dance, a golden sea undulating as far as the horizon, 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.

The stem was right all along. Anger served no purpose other than one’s demise.

The north wind calmed down and let the stems be, accepting their role in the world. Without them it was impossible to perceive himself, and with too many of them around he choked and sputtered. Equilibrium was imperative. He calmed down and went about his business so that the stems went about theirs, and the men and women came out of their caves to reap the harvests and plant new seeds, the clouds assembled 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, in the wake of which the north wind and all winds and breezes, all plants and animals, all of earth’s elements heaved, shaping life on this tiny speck in in the middle of endless nowhere.

From the bays of Pearl Coast,

Fish a ton of oysters, strike a shiny pearl.