Dust in the Wind
6, 1994 15:14
11:00 Ansett Flight 179, Adelaide -> Darwin :: 4 NOV
On the morning of Halloween, which the Australian's don't celebrate,
Coober Pedy sprung a surprise on us: wind, like I haven't seen in some
time. A good steady 20 to 30 km/hr blow to make your tent curtsy. The
kind that accompanies what they call here 'a cool change'.
It started in the wee hours, flapping the tent fly, bowing the dome like
a stiff breath against a soap bubble. Strengthening toward dawn it finally
coaxed two sleepy campers from their beleaguered shelter. We packed and
showered in haste, wanting nothing more than to escape dry, howling Coober
The cold front came from the north pushing Stan toward Port Augusta,
our destination-literally blown out of town. But before long that favour
was rescinded and the westerly buffeted little Stan and blew tumbleweed,
beer cartons and other desert detritus across, and into, our path.
Here, in the arid centre of Australia, where there's wind there soon
will be dust and stinging, driven sand. On the horizon a thin grey band
became a thick one and then a wall obscuring clouds and contrails. When
I noticed that the headlights of all oncoming vehicles were on I began
to consider what we were in for.
I'd seen a dust storm once before, during a four-month co-op term in
dismal, sparkling Calgary. A colleague and I watched in awe as the roiling
grey wave engulfed building after building on its rip down Electric Avenue.
And then, with a concussive shock and a rain of pins-and-needles, it got
us too . While we cowered in the partial shelter of a bus stop the storm
pried flyers from the walls and upset rubbish bins greedily sucking their
contents into the maelstrom. It swept up cigarette butts, old newsprint
and styrofoam cups. Empty drink cans bounced, clattered and rolled by.
And then, quiet. The 3 minute maelstrom passed leaving only tipped bins,
debris and a thin coat of dust. Small evidence for such a fierce, if fleeting,
20:00 Darwin, Northern Territory :: 5 NOV 94
But that brief encounter proved inadequate preparation for what we drove
into just 100kms south of dry Coober Pedy. The sky greyed in anticipation
and shortly a thick haze of dust palled our vision. And I thought, "Wow!
A dust storm!" I thought prematurely for the dust haze thickened
and thickened more until a curtain fell into which I steered Stan.
With visibility through the sand-fog collapsing to 100 meters, then 80,
then 70 I came to a halt beside the beginnings of a dune stretching across
the highway and woke the slumbering Katrin. Slack-jawed, she stared speechlessly
into the murk.
"Get the camcorder out", I told her and we drove on into the
thick of it. The wind blew perpendicular to the highway and Katrin, on
the lee side of the car, could open her window to get clear shots of the
storm. However, more than once the driver side provided the best image
and then, with Katrin poised and ready, I would open my window, all grimace
and squint while she recorded the scene. The sand dashed against cheek
and brow until, shot completed, Katrin took the wheel so I could roll
and push the window back into place; the strength of the wind forced the
window from its channel and it was necessary to guide it back into place
while rolling it up.
For nearly 400 kilometers to Port Augusta we made our way through alternately
slackening and intensifying sand storms. It was not the wind that slackened
but a matter of shifting patterns of geology and flora that might better
keep down the sand that the same wind elsewhere so readily lifted. The
most intense moments came when crossing dry lake beds where a sea of sand
roiled over the salt pan, up-and-over the raised road bed and off again
into the uniform grey void.
As we neared Port Augusta, at the head of a deep bay, the driven sand
subsided though the fierceness of the wind did not. The next day saw the
sand replaced by rain. RAIN!!! The first true soaking since August in
By Adelaide the rains ceased though the relentless wind howled still.
After a futile search of the city center for accommodation we agreed that
the coast might be better and soon, at Glenelg, found ourselves in a room
with an ocean view. Well, a view hidden by the sand encrusted sliding
glass doors. I washed the windows but within the hour the view was obscured
Outside the surf was up-way up. Beached surfers, unable to paddle out
through the breakers, ran down the pier and at the end of it plummeted
8 or so meters into the bucking ocean. We watched them, awed at the frantic
madness, while leaning into the rushing air that ricocheted off the luxury
Ramada Hotel next to our more modest "holiday flat". Then, warm,
secure and candle-lit behind rattling, whistling doors, we ate take-away
Thai, watched the evening news and made love.
The next day the wind finally abated. Small dunes obscured the walking
paths and grass poked through the thick sand coat that accumulated overnight,
reminiscent of Vancouver's Sea Wall after a snow storm. We walked along
the beach, collecting perfect little shells scattered among the heaped
shards of those crushed by the storm. That the search should be so easy
intrigues us both. That unbroken organic lines and patterns seem such
magnets for the eye, that we begin the reach for a looping spiral precognitively:
we know Quality independent of intellect.
It is three days after that now and, lead by intellect, I am in transit
to North America while Katrin drives on from Adelaide to home and friends
in Melbourne. When I talk with people about my travels in Australia, I
forget that I am not a 'we' anymore but an 'I'.
-- Responses Sought --
Our nature lies in movement; complete calm is death.