Every year when the Santa Ana winds blow I always think of this Joan Didion essay from Slouching Towards Bethlehem. In her essay, Los Angeles Notebook, Didion talks about the eerie effects on the winds on Los Angeles. I am paraphrasing here, but she writes:
To live with the Santa Ana is to accept, consciously or unconsciously, a deep mechanistic view of human behaviour. I recall being told, 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. Anything could happen. That was the kind of wind it was. I did not know then that there was any basis for the effect it had on all of us, but it turns out to be another of those cases in which science bears out folk wisdom.
A few years ago an Israeli physicist discovered that not only during such winds, but for ten or twelve hours which precede them, the air carries an unusually high ratio of positive to negative ions. No one seems to know exactly why that should be; some talk about friction and others suggest solar disturbances. In any case the positive ions are there, and what an excess of positive ions does, in the simplest terms, is make people unhappy.
Easterners commonly complain that there is no "weather" at all in Southern California, that the days and the seasons slip by relentlessly, numbingly bland. That is quite misleading. In fact the climate is characterized by infrequent but violent extremes.
It is hard for people who have not lived in Los Angeles to realize how radically the Santa Ana figures in the local imagination. Los Angeles weather is the weather of catastrophe, of apocalypse, and, just as the reliably long and bitter winters of New England determine the way life is lived there, so the violence and the unpredictability of the Santa Ana affect the entire quality of life in Los Angeles, accentuate its impermanence, its unreliability.
The wind shows us how close to the edge we are.
here is a link if you want to read the essay in it's entirety
photo: Oasis by Elizabeth Atterbury