Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - May 16, 2008

They call the wind Vestas

Earlier this month, I traveled to a conference in Wilson, Kansas to give an afternoon presentation. Since I had started out early in the morning, I was able to enjoy the budding spring that was all around me as I made my way westward on I-70.

But somewhere after I had left Salina, I noticed large electricity-generating windmills. I have read numerous articles about the controversy of putting them on the prairie so I was surprised to see such a large number of them.

I can no longer recall in what year or where it was that I first encountered these giant white three-bladed gizmos, but I know it was somewhere in Europe. One day while returning on a rural road from a small village near the Oder River in Germany, husband Art pulled the car to the side of the road opposite the base of one of them. It said "Vestas" on the generator enclosure. Vestas is the name of the Danish company which I later learned is responsible for almost a quarter of the world's units.

Despite the huge blades swirling above our heads, all I can recall hearing was a vague humming sound. Yet the very size of the smoothly-turning fan was simultaneously intriguing and disquieting.

Now, just like then, I'm not sure if I like them or dislike them. Oh, I like the green energy they produce, but are they an addition or a distraction to the landscape?

If I was pressed for an answer, I'd have to confess that they are rather mesmerizing and calming with their slowly rotating huge blades. And the other conference attendees agreed that they'd rather see them than smokestacks. Yet the big wind generators also seem alien to the quiet cattle lands of Kansas.

But I have a problem with consulting my emotions when trying to make such a determination. Like it or not, I am a victim of when I grew up. When I drive the highways and byways of my native state, I enjoy seeing a red barn here or a limestone one there. Yet I am fully aware that no barn was natural to this or any other place. And the much-smaller windmills that dotted the countryside raising water for the farms of our parents and their forebears seem almost romantic to me. But Native Americans may well have seen barns and windmills as well as roads, fences, telephone poles and all those other things that were the mark of progress for my ancestors as being nothing more than scars on the land.

For that matter, I can hardly imagine my home state without thinking of either wheat or cattle, yet neither of these were native to this part of the world either.

I was drawn back into the moment when I arrived in Wilson. I checked into the hotel and gave my presentation. It seemed to go well, and the evening dinner capped a pleasant day. I had checked the bed earlier and it held the promise of a good night's sleep so I looked forward to the end of the day.

But soon I was drawn back into that is-it-good-or-is-it-bad question. On the prairie, the arrival of the iron horse was a welcome event. But in the middle of the night when you are less than a block away from the main line, it's not so good. I concluded that I'd rather have the windmills lulling me to sleep!

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