When I clean my fountain pens, my favorite part is when I first dip the nib in a bowl of clean water. As soon as the tip of the ink-drenched metal touches the water’s surface, swirls of color enter the pool. The coils of ink remain distinct from the clear water for long enough to snap a photo before the color diffuses and liquid becomes a lighter shade than the original ink: watery mint instead of emerald, pink instead of deep purple.
I often wish we could color the air in the same way. When we sail on Claytor Lake, the squirrelly gusts that whack the sails and feel like they’ll knock us over make me think of the coils of ink in my bowl of water, or the swirling currents in the ocean, of the eddies that form when rushing streams catch on fallen limbs or squeeze between boulders.
This swirling happens with air too. We can feel it in the bowl of the lake when we sail our boat, with mountains that rise up around the water to block, catch, and redirect wind. But we can’t see the swirls, not above the surface of the water. Our one indicator is the lake’s skin: it puckers with the turbulence of swooping air that pushes the water with a thousand flicks, like blowing on soup that’s formed a thin skin. We can see the gust coming, but we can’t see the shape of it. We can’t see it swoop and swirl like a mermaid’s hair underwater.