Winds of Change: On Poetry and Sailing Great Salt Lake

Winds of Change: On Poetry and Sailing Great Salt Lake

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Winds Of Change
By Dave Christensen

On a windy day as light burnt away
they shot arrows, refilling their bows
again and again, But I am still standing.
Sticks blew from turbulence
in a cyclone of expletives.
Stones whipped by whirlwinds
tried smashing my pride, yet
my bones remained unbroken.
My neck stiffened – bruised, battered, bloodied
this throne of ego still shatterproof;
Two knees will never bend,
Who can ever do battle with I?
A feather then drifted out of nowhere
knocked me over – and light was rekindled
in my heart. The wind spoke peace, Then
with bent knees my neck bowed
as the feather wrote my thoughts.

The West has long been home to poets inspired by the unparalleled beauty of western landscapes – which probably conjures up images of the Cowboy Poet crouching next to an open fire.  Yet I have been introduced to a western poetry of a different sort – on the waters of Great Salt Lake, the salty sailors are living inside poetry every time they unfurl their sails.

They are Salt Poets.

168966_494797008994_6215600_nDavid Christensen,  captain of Vesica Piscis, appears to be Great Salt Lake’s de facto Poet Laureate of sailors.  Under the moniker “Windpoet,” Dave writes poetry, shares photos, and sets video of his sails to music – all in his own effort to share the secrets of sailing Great Salt Lake.

I have watched several Windpoet videos and, aside from some obvious choices like “Riders on the Storm” by the Doors, I never quite understood what the person behind them was thinking when setting videos of the Lake, the sunsets, the wind in the sails, and fellow sailors and passengers, to songs like “Shakin All Over” by the Guess Who, “Young Turks” by Rod Stewart, or “Skybird” by Neil Diamond:

As you watch this, do you notice the birds moving in time to the beat of the music?  No? Watch it again.  🙂

I decided I needed to know more about Windpoet. So I found myself, on a blustery fall day in late October, sitting in the cabin of Vesica Piscis, exploring the mind of the man behind the Windpoet videos. And there is so much more to the process of creating Windpoet offerings than meets the eye and ear.  Dave hears music, a beat, in the wind, sails, and water, which is due in large part to his musical training in percussion.

“This Lake talks to us, it plays percussion and sings to us,” he said.

I knew what he meant.  I experienced the music of the wind whipping through the rigging of sailboats just minutes before as I walked down the steep incline (so steep because the water is so low) from the parking lot and along Dock I, where I met Dave at 3:00 on a Saturday afternoon, beer in hand.  The music was deafening, so I stopped and stood there listening, feeling change on the wind – a transition from summer to winter so violent I doubted we would sail that day.

As we spoke over the roar of the wind, I imagined him observing the Lake from the bow, watching the sunset on the open water, listening to it, hearing the beat in the waves, and knowing which song is the soundtrack to what the Lake is telling him. To see what I mean, compare the video above to this one:

While Windpoet has become his alter ego (according to Dave, “it might be the best part of me”) it is actually the name given to the first boat he purchased with his brother more than 30 years ago.  He recalled the process of coming to that name, including nixing “Sail-weiser” in honor of the beer they were drinking at the time (and out of fear that a name like that might elicit a lot of finger-pointing if they ever got into trouble…so much for being “weiser” huh?).

When he finally landed on Windpoet, his brother felt it was too “Dave” and not enough him. Apparently, Dave’s been a poet for a long time. But his brother finally capitulated, and though Dave has long since sold Windpoet, he still keeps an eye on her, and reported her current condition to me in detail.

Our conversation, interspersed with thoughts and nods of agreement from Dave’s slip neighbor, Cody (who lives full time at Great Salt Lake State Marina), left me feeling like the Windpoet and I share a gut-level understanding about the things on this Earth that connect us all.  Later, as I watched more and more of his videos, I understood his choices of music and even ventured to think I knew what he must have been feeling on that particular sail.  More than anything, Dave is lighthearted and generous, and has a connection to things far greater, and far simpler, than many people will ever discover as they navigate the busy, distracted, digitalized world we live in (both of us have a love-hate relationship with the digital platforms we use to share the Lake).

Pair this video and the poem below to get a sense of the meditative power of what the Windpoet sees and does in his excursion sailing Great Salt Lake.

Messages In The Sunset

Rotating slow-motion below the horizon
like sparks from a hot saw blade,
distorted refractions of supernatural light
bends gradually along twilight lines
of longitude and latitude
tilting the axis of our souls in silent awe 

God’s translucent nocturnal art
bathes us in divine fireworks,
creating afterglows of defused smiles,
an intense spectrum of wave-lengths
casting their sublime reflections
to catch fire in the watery eyes of humility 

Stretching forth his kodachrome hand,
suspending colored symphonies within a stillness,
displaying gentle flashes of fearful
and trembling hues,
taking us back home momentarily,
regenerating us in preparation
for his next gift of a brilliant sunrise

For Dave, God is present whenever he’s at the helm of a sailboat: in the way the light reflects off the waves, the mountains, and the clouds; in the camaraderie among the sailors he knows and loves; in the birds and waves and wind; in the healing power of mineral-rich water against your bare skin (Dave is a big proponent of a swim in the Lake, a reconnection with the healing power of the Earth, to cure whatever ails you).

“Why wouldn’t I want to share that with the world?” he said, as we finished up our second round of beers and debated (with Cody’s egging) opening another and sailing Great Salt Lake after all. And he shares freely. “My feeling is that God created all of this…this feast for our senses.  So I snap a picture and then try to put a copyright on it?  Doesn’t make sense to me.  That’s just my feeling about it.”

“The Lake is magic,” he continued.  “I don’t think there’s anyplace else in the world where the interplay of the light on the water and the sunsets is quite like this. And sailing is the ultimate seduction and the greatest diversion of existence. It invites you to make love to the wind; it puts you in a state of sublime tension and relaxation both at the same time as your soul dialogues with nature’s most dynamic mystery.”

“We’re always trying to get people to sail with us, cause everybody in the valley thinks this place is a toilet. One way or another, I’m just always trying to say, look how beautiful this place is. You just want to share the experience.”

“Don’t share it too much,” I said, and Dave, Cody and I silently nodded in understanding.

The Lake is something we’re moved to proclaim to the world, but at the same time we want to keep it for ourselves.  We both do that in our own way, Dave pointed out.  Just as I write and curate posts for Seasons of Salt, he composes word, picture, music, and video, posts them to the web, and people from all over the world  reach out to him to learn more about sailing Great Salt Lake.

We want everyone to know what we know about this place – and yet, we want it to stay the same vast, lonely, soul-healing place, where so many Lake lovers have learned to dance to the beat of solitude.

We did end up going for a short and adrenaline-infused sail after all – after we all stood to one side of the boat so it would tip enough to clear the shallow water at the mouth of the Marina. I felt safe in the experienced hands of Dave, Cody, and two more sailors (Paul and Paul – who also posts sail videos, including ours from that day), who probably had 60+ years of experience sailing Great Salt Lake between them, even as Cody walked almost completely sideways to adjust sails.

As we headed back toward the marina, wind and waves churning, I sat at the bow of Vesica Piscis and watched the sun sink lower, glittering on the water, listening to beats from Dave’s playlist drift from the cabin…”here comes the rain again, falling on my head like a memory, falling on my head like a new emotion…

Visit and Like Dave on his Facebook page for more of his work.

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