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Message in the wind (02/09/2006)
by Tom Conroy

DNR Information Officer

The American flag that hangs from a pole just down the street catches my eye each morning on my way out to the dog kennel.

On a recent blustery morning, I glanced at Old Glory and noticed that the wind was out of the north. A strong wind, moaning in the treetops, chasing dark clouds overhead in the faint light of dawn. Something stirred inside me. "Perfect conditions for bringing ducks down," I thought instantly.

Never mind that the lakes were frozen and that the duck season ended two months ago. The flag and the wind on this morning spoke of ducks. The wind, it seems, always has something to say. It might tell you what side of the lake to fish, where to locate a deer stand, or how to pheasant hunt a field to the dog's best advantage.

Much has been written about the wind over time. Frank Sinatra sang of his fickle friend, "the summer wind," and Gordon Lightfoot of "when the gales of November come early" on the big lake they call Gitche Gummi. The song "Colors of the Wind" in Disney's Pocahontas asked, "Can you paint with all the colors of the wind?"

Early one morning last fall we met at the shack with high expectations of a good day in the duck blind. We could hear the wind howling outside in the darkness. Someone began to sing (badly):

"And the wayward wind is a restless wind

A restless wind that yearns to wander

And I was born the next of kin

The next of kin to the wayward wind."

As I watched the dog sniff the ground and Old Glory thrash in the wind on that recent morning, it occurred to me that, in spite of all that has been said and written about the wind, most people probably pay little attention to it. Not until it rears up and delivers a slap to the face. A tornado, hurricane, or blizzard - those kinds of wind will get your attention quick. Seems to be that way with a lot of things in life - we don't pay much attention until we can no longer afford to look the other way.

We don't notice the deteriorating road until we hit a pothole that rattles our teeth. We don't notice the wall needs painting until we take a picture down. We don't notice the garden needs weeding until one day you can't find the carrots. And we don't pay much attention to the water that flows out of the tap until the bill comes and we gasp at the increase in the amount due.

The water bill continues to go up because we need to pay for past sins of omission. Of course it would have been far less expensive to protect the water in the first place but apparently not enough of us were paying attention to what was happening. Seems to often be that way with our natural resources. We tend not to notice what's happening to the water, grasslands, and woods because the changes happen a little bit at a time, like a wind that begins as a quiet breeze and slowly builds momentum throughout the day. Not until tree limbs start crashing down do we really take notice. With nature, it can take years or even decades of small change before one day we suddenly feel the sharp sting of a hand to the face.

Drive down a country road and look around. Things look just fine from the car seat. But what we don't see are the fish eggs that don't hatch because of the dirty water. We don't notice the disappearance of that the low spot in the field that once held water for a few weeks in the spring, providing critical food for migrating waterfowl. We don't notice the loss of grasslands and the meadowlark's song. We see a lake home with a manicured lawn down to the water's edge and we're impressed by the owner's meticulousness, rather than notice the toxins that run off that lawn into the lake.

Even if we do notice, we don't understand how a small change here and there can make any difference in the grand scheme of things. It's like a small cut on your finger - no big deal. But suffer similar small cuts all over your body and you better get to an emergency room. With nature, we too often wait til the blood is gushing and then we race for trauma care. Sometimes we get there too late.

There's a message in the wind, for those who care to listen. It speaks of the piper. We can pay him now or we can pay him later. Just so we know that pay him we must, and that his interest rates can be painfully steep. 


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