I’ve been thinking about wind lately. I grew up on a farm near a village of four-hundred people. My parents lived north of this village until I was ten. Their next rented farm was south of that same berg. These places were the kind of farms that don’t exist anymore. My folks rented their small farms from landowners in nearby towns. They raised dairy cattle, pigs, chickens, and planted big gardens.
The first farm did not have any running water in the house. Consequently, there was no indoor toilet facility. A windmill pumped all water for people and animals. Wind provided the power to the windmill to pump water for everything. My parents and later my older brothers carried water to the house to drink, cook, do dishes, wash clothes, and bathe. Water had to be heated on a stove; a wood burner in winter or a kerosene stove in summer.
The second farm did have water piped into the rustic house and there was a hot water heater to provide hot water. This house did not have an indoor bathroom either. This farm-site was split by a rural gravel road. The house, clothesline, and outhouse were on one side of the road. The windmill, barn, hog shed, chicken house, corn crib, and Dad’s shop were on the other side of the road.
We used an outhouse like the one depicted here, but ours wasn’t as nice. It’s saving grace was a view of the creek in the pasture below the hill. There were often deer grazing with the cows or sipping water from the creek.
This is a picture of my parents, two younger brothers and me in front the old house south of town. The landlord eventually enclosed the front porch and painted the beat-up house. Other outbuildings were on the opposite site of the sandy gravel road. We played in the grove of wind-gnarled trees behind the house.
We depended on the wind to pump water for the animals. There was a tank at the base of the windmill, much like the tank pictured below located on my place today for watering cows and horses in the summer. My tank fills from water piped through an underground line from the well and brought to the surface via a hydrant. I leave a post in the tank as a perch for bees, birds, and other wildlife. In winter animals here drink from a heated automatic waterer.
Dad’s tank was filled by the windmill pumping water when the wind turned the blades. He added a barrel heater to his tank, to keep it ice free in winter. Dad filled his tank-heater with wood for a fire, to keep the water open for the cattle and hogs. The chicken house was also nearby. Mom carried water to the chickens from the tank. Eventually Dad installed an electric-powered pump-jack to pump water when the wind did not blow reliably.
Some years Mom had a garden near the outbuildings so she could water from the tank near the windmill. As my brothers and I grew up and left home after high school she needed to grow fewer vegetables for canning and consequently needed less space for the garden. She moved the garden north of the house to be more convenient for her.
Fifty Years Later
Jumping ahead fifty years, people don’t depend on wind to pump water. Cities and towns have wells that provide regularly tested safe drinking water for their residents. Rural people like me have submersible pumps installed by licensed well personnel. I no longer have a functioning wind-powered windmill.
This is a photo of the giant tower across the road from my house. Several more are visible in the distance. I count sixty-two of these behemoths surrounding my back yard marring my view of the horizon in every direction. This one appears pink in the setting sun as it captures the last of the light. These wind machines are very noisy when wind blows at certain speeds and directions. While one may run quietly in a southeast wind, another nearby facing a different direction will roar as its blades turn. The noise location can switch with a change in wind direction and speed. It’s only quiet outside now when the wind is calm.
Today, commercial wind farms are sprouting up in thousands of rural areas including in my county. Rather than the comparatively tiny windmills that every farm used to have, now my home is surrounded by dozens of giant wind-generating mechanisms owned by corporate giants in other countries. These modern wind towers dominate the landscape for miles. The wind system in my county doesn’t provide any power to me or my neighbors. The electricity generated is sold to the highest bidder and send via a power grid to communities far away or to commercial operations like Facebook’s new Data Center in Nebraska.
Proponents say that wind farms are a vast improvement to power generated from fossil fuels, but even today’s wind-generated power grid must have a back-up energy source when the wind does not blow. Most will also say that they do not want to live the life of poverty often associated with subsistence farming like my parents and others of their generation.
I also want to make a comment about the blinking red lights on the tops of commercial wind towers. These lights that fill the night sky are an irritant from my perspective. Each system has a red light at it’s tip to warn aircraft of their presence. While these lights are necessary for safety, they fill the night sky that used to be just full of stars here. For every upgrade in lifestyle for an urban dweller there is a cost to someone somewhere.
Is wind a friend to the people living in the middle of a wind farm or an annoyance? The answer to this complex question depends on one’s place in the community and a person’s decisions to participate by agreeing to have a wind tower on their land or not. The farmers that sign up receive lucrative financial contracts to have towers on their land. The answer may not have anything to do with the idea of green energy. I support green energy in theory but dislike living in the middle of the gigantic noisy systems.