The Devil’s Breath: California’s Evil Winds

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. — At 4 a.m., the dogs begin to bark. Like them, I can’t sleep. In Los Angeles, 10 miles from the beach, the Santa Anas whistled in the evening. On days when they were strong, they howled, hanging over the neon lights of Sunset Boulevard, dancing across the glossed black surface of a lazurite ocean in the night.

But here, 60 miles east of L.A., in the twilight hours, they roar across the desert. The bleached sands rise in sheets, flying south, following the path of the wind. The earth seems to shake, ominous, with an invisible scream that cuts across empty land. The winds come from the high plateaus between the Sierras and the Rockies. The coast, with its low pressure, beckons them, calling them to thicken the thin air where cliffs drop into the sea. The winds sweep, swirling, churning, laughing, across the high desert and down Interstate 15, rising in temperature 10 degrees Celsius for every kilometer they fall. They’re known as the devil’s breath.

On days when wildfires blot out the sun with ash, turning the sky red and the air black, the winds blow scarlet, furious. Whipped forward by these angry gusts, the fires reach their flaming fingers toward a huge, parched sky.

When they’re gone, the earth will smolder, and an eerie silver powder will lie scattered over a vast landscape. But this dust, the shadow of death, is destined too to disappear. The wind will pick it up and carry it away.

Time will fling us mercilessly forward; memories will fade. And later, all that will remain is history with all its gaps and imperfections. And no one will recall the way hell’s laughter echoed across the desert one morning in October 2006, coaxing and draining the life out of every living thing, choking a wide horizon with smoke.

Story written in July 2007.

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