Looking for Four Strong Winds

The sun crossed the celestial equator into the southern hemisphere this evening. Even the most beautiful photographs of the harvest moon over the Somerset Levels cannot disguise the fact that the dark days are coming

I remember a friend returning from a visit to the Canadian Province of Alberta at the time of the autumnal equinox.

“What was the weather like?” I asked

“Beautiful, just a touch of frost in the mornings, but blue skies and fine days.”

It is the stuff of a song sung by Neil Young song. The atmospheric Four Strong Winds declares, “Think I’ll go out to Alberta, weather’s good there in the fall.”

It’s a song from the folk revival of the 1960s, which perhaps explains its capacity to endure, to speak to people long after its time.  Four Strong Winds has a melancholic mood, but it seems always to have something liberating about it. It seems a declaration that the year is not dying, that life is still there to be lived to the full.

Going out to Alberta is the opposite of closing the curtains and switching on the television. It is depressing that whilst former generations saw Saturday and Sunday evenings as occasions for going out, for, at the very least, calling with family and friends, people now see the hours as a time to sit and watch mediocre television, for mediocre it is.

Would anyone sit and watch an amateur league soccer match on television, or a live broadcast of a band playing in a pub? Why then watch the formulaic programming that dominates the schedules with the affected gravitas of its judges and its pretence that the results are matters of importance?

Maybe going out to Alberta is not an option for most people, but surely they can manage more that just sitting and watching dross. Surely, there comes an autumn when people say, “Enough, there has to be more to life?”

The lyrics of Four Strong Winds tell of someone whose life has become stuck in a rut, someone whose relationship has come to an end, someone who has made repeated efforts to re-capture the magic of former times, but who now realizes that it is time to break out, time to find freedom from the things that break the spirit.

The first frosts can be a reminder not of winter, but of a sense that it doesn’t have to be this way. Get up, turn off the television, go for a walk, call with someone, stand and look at the night sky; do anything except sink into the quagmire of another winter.

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2 Responses to Looking for Four Strong Winds

  1. Chris says:

    Many a true word.

    Many ‘popular’ programmes are merely the updated versions of Juvenal’s bread and circuses to distract the masses. They are normally inhabited by the talent free and have no consequence on real life. I have no clue who won ‘Strictly’ at any point and care less; it has no impact on me.

    Read ‘A Study in Scarlet’ when Holmes dismisses Watson’s attempts to inform him of modern developments in the field of astronomy and physics. Whether we go round the sun or it goes round us, is of no consequence to Holmes’ work, and he will not clutter his mind with it.

    Books (or Kindles) still work, and you may learn something from the cheapest novel. What is life if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare?

    Incidentally, check Neil Young’s ‘Harvest Moon.’ More upbeat.

    • Ian says:

      I like Harvest Moon, but Four Strong Winds always seems more atmospheric.

      Your question, “what is life, if full of care?” reminded me of Paddy Murphy, a delightful man I knew in Killiney, Co Dublin.

      Paddy once told a story of driving home from a dinner at a yacht club in Dun Laoghaire. Driving from Dalkey, he was driving down from Killiney Hill. It was a fine, clear evening and there was a full moon. Catching sight of the moon reflected in the waters of the bay, he slowed almost to a stop to enjoy the moment.

      Suddenly, he became aware of flashing blue lights behind him. He pulled up at the roadside and a squad car pulled up in front of him. Two Gardai stepped from the car and walked back to speak to him. They must have experienced a moment of frustration at finding there was nothing with which to accuse him except driving slowly.

      Looking at the Garda, who had complained of the slowness with which he had been driving, he recited those lines from the poet W.H. Davies:

      What is life, if, full of care,
      there’s no time to stand and stare?

      I sometimes wish I possessed a similar capacity for sanguinity.

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