Away out here they got a name for rain and wind and fire
The rain is Tess, the fire Joe, and they call the wind Mariah
I was born and raised “away out here” in California where the characters in the musical “Paint Your Wagon” reside. But I’m sure I’ve never, ever, heard anyone call the wind Mariah, much less use a name for rain and fire. What we have instead is an “onshore flow” or an “offshore breeze,” and that is as far as our meager poetry takes us. And what I say is, more’s the pity. Why, even in the much-maligned region known as Southern California, the land of freeways and aspiring actors waiting tables, they have sufficient wit to name a wind a “Santa Ana.” The origin of their name for this hot, dry, desert wind is murky, as is appropriate for mysterious forces of nature. But it’s a name of mythic resonance, compared to “offshore breeze.”
The National Weather Service is doing what it can. It says that away out here there’s a wind they call Diablo, Northern California’s version of the Santa Ana. I’m all for it, but I’ve heard folks call the wind Diablo about as often as I’ve heard them call it Mariah.
The poverty of language about the wind in our area is fortunately not the norm. In other parts of the world we find the observers of our favorite element much less shy about getting in touch with their inner poet. Perhaps you’ve heard of the Meltemi, the Mistral, the Sirocco, the Tehuantepecer, the Barat, the Chubasco, the Monsoon, the Elephanta, the Haboob, the Chinook, the Levanter, the Zephyros, the Papagayo, the Bora, the Tramontana, the Willy-willy, and the Williwaw—which is completely different from the Willy-willy. How about the Barber, the Brickfielder, the Blue Norther, the Cape Doctor, the Freemantle Doctor, the Squamish, and the Warm Braw? Admit it, your life would be a whole lot better if you could say stuff like, “I wouldn’t venture out today, son, a Squamish is fixin’ to blow.”
The Bible and Homer agree there are four winds all together. But Aristotle named ten, Timosthenes twelve, and the ancient Greeks finally settled on the eight of Eratosthenes. These were memorialized with their associated gods at the Tower of the Winds in the Agora of ancient Athens. It’s still there, and so are the winds.