Santa Ana Winds: Fire on the Mountain

An iconic figure in lyrics and lore, the Santa Ana wind inspires sublime obsessions. As the Mojave Desert becomes cool in autumn, the Santa Ana winds begin to blow. The dry feverish winds sweep across the parched olive chaparral surrounding Southern California, igniting roaring wildfires. Relentless rebirth.

Tim Buckley moaned a Santa Ana dirge. Raymond Chandler’s “Red Wind” is a noir-ish tale of femme fatales breathing into the mysterious flashing ether. Joan Didion’s classic book Slouching Towards Bethlehem: Essays (FSG Classics),includes The Santa Ana.

“I recall being told,” she writes,” when I first moved to Los Angeles and was living on an isolated beach, that the Indians would throw themselves into the sea when the bad wind blew. I could see why. The Pacific turned ominously glossy during a Santa Ana period, and one woke in the night troubled not only by the peacocks screaming in the olive trees but by the eerie absence of surf. The heat was surreal. The sky had a yellow cast, the kind of light sometimes called “earthquake weather.” My only neighbor would not come out of her house for days, and there were no lights at night, and her husband roamed the place with a machete. One day he would tell me that he had heard a trespasser, the next a rattlesnake.”

Rock legend Neil Peart recounts the origin of the “devil winds” from a Cahuilla Indian story in his memoir Traveling Music: Playing Back the Soundtrack to My Life and Times. As one of the oldest tribes to occupy Palms Springs, the Cahuilla Indians say the Santa Anas came howling from a giant cave, the Devil’s Lair in the Mojave Desert.

All these slightly macabre legends are a bit dramatic. The Santa Ana winds are sensual- at once hot as invisible embers and cold as canyon tongues. Ruthless winds are the deep inhalations and exhalations of a molting Mother Nature. The winds tame the wild ones and ignite the hibernating hearts. I once knew a cynical woman who fell tempestuously in love during a getaway to Palm Springs, surrendering to the wistful wind.

The ‘santana’ spirit can be found in the undulating beats of a drum circle at the Ace Hotel. Dionysian bodies dance wildly around an oversized pool, the bright glow of the full moon beaming across its surface, as if summer were still in full salutation. Gowns whirl. Patterns of harvest fields upon patterns of poems upon patterns of live riddles that burrow or migrate to warmer climates upon patterns like ancient cardiograms.

This is the style of now.

Lush crimson lips sealed by the serene as feline eyes lined in soot-colored kohl widen in curiosity. Listening enraptured to the tarot card readers, who reveal destiny over smoking fire pits fanned by the winds, snatching fortunes as quickly as they can be revealed. Ethereal air, carrying smoldering umber dust from the desert and a briny aroma from the nearby Salton Sea, caressing flushed cheeks.

Nestled by stunning views of the Santa Rosa Mountain and San Jacinto Mountain, the desert outpost is shielded by San Jacinto Peak, one of “three saints” that describe the highest peaks of the three tallest mountain ranges in Baja California. The name of Palm Springs originates from the majestic palm oasis of the Indian canyon that sits at the foot of the mountain. The oasis serves as an altar to the nukatem, or ‘ancient sacred beings’, to the Cahuilla Indians who still reside here. Instead of leaping into the depths of the ocean when the surreal winds start their heady, perfumed sigh, surrender to a desert hideaway, indulge in a spa treatment in a Mongolian yurt, as the moist marine fog salutes a long season and the oxblood air settles into itself.

 

 

Published on Nomad-Chic.com

September, 2012