Z is for zephyr

The zephyr, as many know, is a west wind. Where I grew up, though, it had special meaning. The “gentle” Washoe zephyrs were a by-word. Here, in Mark Twain’s words, a description:

This was all we saw that day, for it was two o’clock, now, and according to custom the daily “Washoe Zephyr” set in; a soaring dust-drift about the size of the United States set up edgewise came with it, and the capital of Nevada Territory disappeared from view.

Still, there were sights to be seen which were not wholly uninteresting to new comers; for the vast dust cloud was thickly freckled with things strange to the upper air—things living and dead, that flitted hither and thither, going and coming, appearing and disappearing among the rolling billows of dust—hats, chickens and parasols sailing in the remote heavens; blankets, tin signs, sage-brush and shingles a shade lower; door-mats and buffalo robes lower still; shovels and coal scuttles on the next grade; glass doors, cats and little children on the next; disrupted lumber yards, light buggies and wheelbarrows on the next; and down only thirty or forty feet above ground was a scurrying storm of emigrating roofs and vacant lots.

t was something to see that much. I could have seen more, if I could have kept the dust out of my eyes.

But seriously a Washoe wind is by no means a trifling matter. It blows flimsy houses down, lifts shingle roofs occasionally, rolls up tin ones like sheet music, now and then blows a stage coach over and spills the passengers; and tradition says the reason there are so many bald people there, is, that the wind blows the hair off their heads while they are looking skyward after their hats. Carson streets seldom look inactive on Summer afternoons, because there are so many citizens skipping around their escaping hats, like chambermaids trying to head off a spider.

The “Washoe Zephyr” (Washoe is a pet nickname for Nevada) is a peculiar Scriptural wind, in that no man knoweth “whence it cometh.” That is to say, where it originates. It comes right over the mountains from the West, but when one crosses the ridge he does not find any of it on the other side! It probably is manufactured on the mountain-top for the occasion, and starts from there. It is a pretty regular wind, in the summer time. Its office hours are from two in the afternoon till two the next morning; and anybody venturing abroad during those twelve hours needs to allow for the wind or he will bring up a mile or two to leeward of the point he is aiming at. And yet the first complaint a Washoe visitor to San Francisco makes, is that the sea winds blow so, there! There is a good deal of human nature in that.

(Roughing It, part 3, published 1872)

Because of the Washoe zephyrs, I’ve always been fascinated by named winds, from siroccos to Santa Anas. In fact, once I discovered that Wikipedia has a list of winds, I started creating a story that named individuals after winds. Hmm. I’m going to have to take that off the back burner sometime.

What about you? Do you have a favorite meteorological phenomenon? How about a favorite Mark Twain quote?

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  1. Oh, I’m sorry it took me thing long to get to your blog. Nice bumping into you, Erin.

    • No worries, Mary. There were a lot of people doing the challenge! I know I didn’t get to even all of the ones that looked interesting, including yours. Sorry. (/me adds to the week’s to-do list)

  2. I actually had no idea what a zephyr was. Thanks for sharing with me, and it’s a pleasure to meet you via the A-Z Challenge!

  3. I have no idea what it’s called, but my favorite wind is the one that comes up just before a summer thunderstorm. It’s warm, damp and full of electricity. And it reminds me of summers when I’d go out to run about barefoot in a storm splashing in all the puddles.

    • Ooh, that’s a lovely vivid description! And I have no idea what that wind is called, either.

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